In Stillwater, businesses put out balloons to mark their participation. In Afton, pop-up boutiques are added to the roster of local shops. In Hudson, restaurants and gift and art shops get together for a kind of party. What’s the common thread? All three St. Croix Valley cities host a regularly scheduled ladies’ night out (LNO), where local businesses are open and offer special deals in the course of an evening dedicated to food, fun, shopping and relaxation. In each case, the events are sponsored by independent business associations, making the evening a win-win for girlfriends and business owners alike.
Meg Brownson serves on a committee representing 36 Stillwater businesses (including her own, Alfresco Casual Living) that participate in LNO. The committee is a function of the Main Street Stillwater Independent Business Association, which has more than 60 members. Stillwater LNO sponsors four events per year, always on a Thursday night. (The next two events on the calendar are September 8 and November 10.)
“We start at one end of town and end in another,” Brownson says, and try to include service-oriented businesses, too, “like those at ‘the healing corner’ of Chestnut and Main.” From 5 to 8:30 p.m., shoppers use “passports” (and balloons) to find all 36 Stillwater businesses participating in LNO. Each business tries to do something special, such as provide discounts, treats or demos, for the event. At the May LNO, one salon offered discounted gift cards; at another location, there was a mini fashion show. Shoppers get a raffle ticket for every $10 they spend, and at the end of the evening gather in a designated location for food and drinks. There, prizes are awarded, including a $100 grand-prize gift card, usable at all LNO participating businesses. In addition, the May LNO’s Cocktails for a Cause collected money and clothing for Valley Outreach, a local food, clothing and emergency assistance outlet.
The Afton LNO, sponsored by the Afton Area Business Association, is similarly structured, although here it’s called Ultimate Girls’ Night Out (UGNO), and it happens on the third Thursday of every month of the year, says UGNO event coordinator and Eye Candy Refind owner Lacy Vreeland. “Even on quieter winter evenings, girls need a night out.” UGNO starts with a glass of wine at Swirl wine bar in Afton, where a changing roster of six to 12 pop-up boutiques are present to sell items ranging from locally handmade jewelry and scarves to natural cleaning supplies and books. “From May to September, we also have live music on the patio at Swirl,” Vreeland says. “Swirl is our home base, or hub, but we encourage attendees to visit all participating businesses and pick up raffle tickets along the way.” No purchase is necessary for the raffle tickets; you can get one by simply entering a store. Raffle tickets are entered into a drawing at Swirl at the end of the evening, which usually lasts from about 5 to 8 p.m.
Hudson’s event is called Girls’ Night Out (GNO), and although it only happens twice a year, readers are in luck, because the next one is October 27 and has been affectionately renamed “Ghouls’ Night Out.” Ruth Misenko is the owner of Seasons on St. Croix Gallery and chairwoman of the Hudson Independent Business Association, an affiliate of the Hudson Chamber of Commerce. She describes GNO as an evening where businesses host a simultaneous special event, inviting women to investigate their many and varied offerings. “It’s more promotional than marketing,” Misenko says, “like a coming-out party for the community.” It’s a reminder to Hudson-area consumers, she adds, that there is “a lot at their fingertips.” Activities in Hudson’s GNO include demonstrations, tastings, trunk shows, book signings and special sales. Shopping and browsing usually occur from 5 to 8 p.m., and the evening wraps up at a designated restaurant around 8:30 p.m.
Look for dates, times and places for each city’s ladies’ night out on Facebook.