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Genesee Keg Tree lighting on tap tonight, Roc Holiday Village opens this weekend

The Genesee Keg Tree will be lit at 6:30 p.m. Friday night, paying homage to New York’s oldest brewery and the 600-plus employees who work there.  

2018 Genesee Keg Tree lighting

Built by brewery employees and retirees, the keg tree stands three stories high, consists of 532 kegs and has over 30,000 holiday lights. 

The keg tree lighting was last held in 2019 with some 7,000 people attending. Thousands are expected to attend Friday’s festivities.  

“There’s nothing more Rochester than thousands of people gathering to light up a keg tree and drink cold beer in December,” said Jaime Polisoto, brand director for Genesee, in a release.  

He said the keg tree lighting will include beer trucks, food trucks, a tree that flashes along to holiday music and a giant, custom-designed wooden sled built by the Genesee carpentry team.  

In addition, the brewery is releasing a festive spin on its flagship Cream Ale beer – a Cinnamon Cream Ale or Keg Tree Ale – for the annual event. 

In other Rochester happenings, the fourth annual City of Rochester Roc Holiday Village presented by Five Star Bank opens this weekend at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park on Court Street.

Visitors can enjoy 16 days of free events through Dec. 23, including free ice skating and skate rentals, free visits and photos with Santa, a shopping village, private Cozy Winter Igloos (sold out), free ice rink events and activities, free live music, holiday celebrations, free crafts for kids, indoor and open-air bars, fire pits, food trucks, outdoor seating and more.

 [email protected] / (585) 653-4021 

4th annual Roc Holiday Village kicks off Dec. 2

Roc Holiday Village returns for a 16-day run, Wednesdays through Sundays, starting on Dec. 2
Roc Holiday Village returns for a 16-day run, Wednesdays through Sundays, starting on Dec. 2 (file photo).

The city of Rochester’s Roc Holiday Village presented by Five Star Bank returns in December for 16 days of merriment at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park.

The festival opens at 4 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 2 and features activities every Wednesday-Sunday until Dec. 23. That includes the annual lighting of the Liberty Pole at 5 p.m. on Dec. 3, followed by the inaugural Lantern Parade to the Roc Holiday Village.

“Roc Holiday Village has grown into a wonderful event that shines a light on the vibrancy of downtown Rochester, driven by ongoing investments that are transforming the way we work, live and play,” Martin Birmingham, Five Star Bank president and CEO, said in a news release.

“As a community bank, we are committed to creating measurable impacts and helping our communities thrive. Roc Holiday Village enriches our community, provides holiday fun for people of all ages and supports our valued local businesses.”

Among the attractions: Live reindeer appearing at the village from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 18; Village Shopping and Frosty’s Food Court; an appearance by Anna and Elsa from Disney’s Frozen on Dec. 10 in The Triple-O Lodge; a cocoa and coffee bar in The Triple-O Lodge; Santa’s Workshop, which returns for the first time since 2019; an outdoor bar; a scavenger hunt; ice rink theme days, including an Ugly Sweater Day and Jersey Day.

Village hours: 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. The ice rink is open an hour longer on all days; the bar is open until 10 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays and until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

More than 100,000 people attended in 2021. For more information on events, including the full schedule and Cozy Igloo rentals, visit the Roc Holiday Village website.

Roc Holiday Village is co-owned by the co-founders, Jenna Manetta-Knauf, Kelli Marsh, and Sean McCarthy.

[email protected]/(585) 653-4020

ROC Holiday Village opening rental igloos for New Year’s Eve

Groups still wanting to rent an igloo at the ROC Holiday Village may be disappointed unless they’re looking for time on New Year’s Eve.

The downtown festival site, now in its second year, provides a mix of entertainment, food, drink, shopping and accommodations for private parties in a festive, open-air holiday atmosphere.

The second annual ROC Holiday Village has been expanded from 11 days to 14 days, including four days after Christmas (photo provided by ROC Holiday Village).
The second annual ROC Holiday Village has been expanded from 11 days to 14 days, including four days after Christmas (photo provided by ROC Holiday Village).

Starting on Monday at 10 a.m., reservations will be open for the igloo rentals on Dec. 31. ROC Holiday Village runs for 14 days spread between Dec. 6 and 31. Though the igloos, which accommodate six to eight people, are all booked through Dec. 29, some slots are still open during the earlier part of the run for the large Igloo Inn shelters, accommodating up to 25 people.

The festival site, now in its second year, provides a mix of entertainment, food, drink, shopping and accommodations for private parties in a festive, open-air holiday atmosphere. Three large tents are set up on the site, in MLK Park off Chestnut Street, all offering beverages for sale. Food is available from a popup restaurant and food trucks. New Year’s Eve will feature food trucks, free ice skating and free skate rentals.

Hours at the site on December 31 will be from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

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Retail business arising in new forms downtown

Where Rochester’s downtown once featured four department stores and two grocery stores, now there are none.

A quarter century after the last department store closed, in the places where all of Rochester once shopped, there’s a car museum, a large gravel lot and a stately building with papered-over windows.

The old five-and-dime is now a Social Security office, and there appears to be just one clothing store in all of downtown, offering sportswear for young men.

Retail has been on hiatus for some time downtown. Downtown experts say it’s never coming back the way it was, but there are some encouraging signs of new and different retail life:

  • This week’s Rochester Cocktail Revival.
  • This is the second year for both Rochester Restaurant Week and Roc Holiday Village.
  • Construction will begin in the fall on two projects in Sibley Square. One is the kitchen commissary, a food-business incubator run by Rochester Downtown Development, and the other is a food hall riffing on the success of places like North Market in Columbus, Ohio, and ethnic markets in New York City.
  • Late last year Rochester Institute of Technology opened a downtown art gallery.
  • Sibley Square is shopping around the idea for a new full-service grocery market on the ground floor, along the lines of the now-closed Hart’s, but about half the size.
  • Amid the high-tech startups and empty nesters flocking to downtown to live in luxury apartments, there’s also a growing number of eateries and devoted followings of two major festivals that bring in international headliners — the Jazz Fest and Fringe Fest.

In terms of traditional retail, you can still buy a few things downtown, such as fashionable kicks, comic books, art supplies and high-end furniture. For essentials, though, you probably have to go elsewhere.

Ken Greene
Ken Greene

“Do they sell handbags or cables? The answer is no,” said Ken Greene, asset manager at Sibley Square, the mixed-use project being redeveloped from the former Sibley’s department store.

Nevertheless, it is possible to buy any number of brewed coffee drinks, upscale meals, casual meals, vegetarian meals, craft beer and specialty cocktails, suggesting a shift away from material purchases and more toward experiential service retail.

“We see our retail becoming more service-driven for the community,” Greene said, noting the return of banks — with or without staff physically present — and the planned addition of urgent care.

“I think food and beverage is going to be part of the answer and you need a critical mass for that,” said Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Rochester Downtown Development Corp. Indeed, downtown Rochester’s population is about 7,200 now, double what it was in 2000.

So the restaurants that have been popping up around downtown are serving both an urban working crowd and an urban residential crowd.

The once-popular notion that retail stores will start to return from the suburbs once we hit a certain number of downtown residents, however, is a notion that has gone the way of the, well, department store.

A little thing like the “Amazonification” of retail happened since retail left downtown. That includes sales moving onto the internet, not to mention an entire industry that arose in the last few years to bring consumers whatever they need from brick-and-mortar stores.

You don’t need those stores near you if you have apps like Uber or Shipt or GrubHub or InstaCart.

Heidi Zimmer-Meyer
Heidi Zimmer-Meyer

“On-street, brick-and-mortar operations are not likely to come back,” said Zimmer-Meyer.

People are voting with their feet, however, that they do want to be ON the bricks — whether it’s the Jazz Fest, Midtown Eats or a winter village that was a huge hit at holiday time the last two Decembers.

“In this community it seems to me that we tend to do things in short spurts. We love festivals. Look at Roc Holiday Village,” Zimmer-Meyer said. “They had food and beverage and retail sales… people went nuts.”

Jenna Manetta-Knauf, owner of Bella Events and originator of the Roc Holiday Village, said she got the idea from New York City’s Bryant Park, which has ice skating in the winter and a series of pop-up shops and eateries in the holiday season.

The local event featured 20 retailers offering things from hand-made soap to funky furry hats. Food, drinks, music and ice-skating all encouraged people to hang out and do their holiday shopping, and groups could rent heated igloos to hold their own parties.

Manetta-Knauf said sales exceeded expectations, with vendors telling her they experienced the highest number of sales in their business’s history.

“It was crazy,” she said.

Events like that are shaping how people shop, Zimmer-Meyer said.

“It’s an experience, all about the experience. That’s one of the things we’ve heard continually about the whole national debate about retail,” Zimmer-Meyer said.

Pop-up retail is becoming more popular in Rochester too. Earlier this year Sibley Square hosted a pop-up vintage furniture sale that did well, Greene said.

Manetta-Knauf manages the Wilder Room in the former Rochester Club and that space was booked for a pop-up women’s fashion retail event.

Designers use their social media following to advertise an event and then set up shop, perhaps with a bar, other refreshments and music, in an event space. The Wilder Room isn’t the only one designers have used for pop-up sales.

“Once or twice a year they pop up in different spots and people go and buy their stuff,” Manetta-Knauf said.

While these pop-ups and festivals are all part of the evolving retail picture, Zimmer-Meyer said Rochester could use a coordinating organization to make sure they keep happening, she said.

She noted the vibrant winter scene Ottawa enjoys, where the community celebrates its frigid temperatures.

“This is what I want Rochester to be all the time,” she said. Downtown Rochester draws crowds during events like the Jazz Fest, she said, but there isn’t much residual effect. “The festival ends and everyone goes home,” she said.

Greene suggested downtown is going through an evolution of sorts that is dependent on both numbers and demographics of new residents and daytime occupants.

“As downtown continues to grow, you’ll start to see hair salons and nail salons. You’ll start to see drycleaners, more daycares. There will be service-related retail,” he said.

When Sibley’s leased space to Monroe Community College, Rainbow, a discount clothing store, was a good fit for community college students. But now that MCC has its own downtown campus and Sibley’s is adding 280 apartments, a more upscale store to serve the new residents is in order, Greene suggested.

Similarly, bodegas have sprung up downtown to accommodate tens of thousands of bus riders who come through the RTS transit station downtown. There are three in a two-block stretch of North Clinton Avenue, Greene said. As the population of downtown residents increases, those residents will need a more expansive food market, he said.

“There are just so many obstacles to successful retailers in downtown Rochester,” Greene said. One is parking — Rochester-area residents still want to park within three rows of a store, like at a mall. Then there’s a shopping nostalgia, which he described as “A psychological barrier in trying to recreate the retail experience of the past.”

People do hanker for the past, Zimmer-Meyer said, at least in terms of finding a central place to inhabit together.

“With everybody doing stuff online, and operating so individually, there is a human need to come together,” she said. “We love coming together for special things. For special reasons. We’ve got to look at what’s happening in other cities that are doing a far better job” of that year-round.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275

City’s Roc Holiday Village kicks off Saturday

Roc Holiday Village, a new event sponsored by the City of Rochester and Five Star Bank kicks off Saturday afternoon.

Opening ceremonies begin after the 5 p.m. lighting of the Liberty Pole and a parade from the pole to Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, the temporary residence of the village. Opening ceremonies, presided over by Mayor Lovely Warren, are scheduled for 5:30 pm.

Saturday activities, from 4 to 11 p.m. include the arrival of Santa Claus in a red convertible, free ice skating, a pop-up version of Avvino Restaurant, photos with Santa, crafts, shopping at special holiday boutiques, and music. Activities continue at the site on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 23.

A Hanukkah menorah will be lit at the park starting the evening of Dec. 9.

A complete schedule of events is available online.

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