AUGUSTA — This year’s tree lighting festivities brought plenty of parents and kids, giving a welcome boost for downtown businesses, despite the cold weather.

“Many, many more than last year,” said Bruce Chase, director of the Augusta recreation department, of the crowd. “From the looks of it, a banner year.”

The holiday tree lighting and fireworks were the grand finale to a day that also offered face painting, crafts, hay rides, dances and, of course, a visit from the big man himself — Santa Claus.

Saturday’s celebration was hosted by the city and the Augusta Downtown Alliance.

Brenda Bas, owner of Retail Therapy Clothing Consignment Boutique, said the event brought in a lot of new business to her downtown storefront. She usually closes at 3 p.m. but said she would stay open for as long as people still wanted to shop.

“So many people came down here that don’t normally shop downtown,” she said. “That’s a big part of these events, to get people to come downtown.”

The most popular items of the day? Cold weather gear, of course.

“I’ve had a lot of people buying hats and scarves, actually. The weather played a trick on them,” Bas said.

Gagliano’s Italian Bistro, also on Water Street, had an equally predictable best seller — hot drinks.

Co-owner Helena Gagliano had to tell a customer around 4:30 p.m. that they had run out of hot chocolate already.

Gagliano said they didn’t anticipate such a large crowd for the event. She and her husband, Jason McFarland, opened the restaurant in July.

She said the crowds for events like these can be hit or miss sometimes.

For next year’s tree lighting, they’ll likely have more hot drinks available and focus on take-out options, like panini, Gagliano said.

The crowds coming in kept her busy, but Gagliano said she was still able to take their two children, a three-year-old girl and four-years-old boy, to see Santa Claus earlier in the day.

“The kids love it. It’s great,” she said.

Parents looking to entertain their kids, while also escaping from the cold, visited the two craft buildings, one for toddlers and another for kids ages 6 through 12.

Natasha and Jason Jensen sat with their three daughters in the toddler crafts room, helping color pictures of Frosty the Snowman.

The Jensens live in Portland but were visiting Natasha Jensen’s mother for Thanksgiving.

“We decided to stay (in Augusta) longer because they have this and fireworks,” Natasha Jensen said. “They can never stay up late enough for the fireworks in July.”

She said they hope the crafts can occupy the kids’ attention spans long enough to make it to the fireworks.

“That will be the challenge, but once the dancers start, that’ll be good. They like people watching, so hopefully they’ll survive,” she said. “They took a good nap.”

Natasha Jensen said she hoped her daughters, ages 2 through 4, wouldn’t get scared of the fireworks.

“I’m not afraid of fireworks,” said 4-year-old Jenna, defiantly.

“When you were a baby last year, you cried,” said her mother.

Jenna scowled and returned to coloring in the picture of Frosty.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

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