The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 21, 2012

Dave Woods: K.C. visitors keen on Christmas shopping, culture

By Dave Woods

— Toni Alexander understands the appeal of Kansas City during the holidays.

“It’s the culture and shopping,” Toni said during a recent trip I made to Kansas City to check out the Christmas lights. “I think Kansas City is attractive for any time of the year, but especially the holidays.”

Toni, communications manager for the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association, talks to hundreds of visitors each year. She hears time and time again the different reasons folks flock to K.C. for the holidays.

“There are so many different reasons,” she said. “The No. 1 reason people say they come to Kansas City is the shopping. ‘The Christmas Carol’ and ‘The Nutcracker’ are all big draws.”

During the past couple of years, downtown Kansas City redevelopment has spurred many retailers to start decorating their storefronts with holiday themes along Main Street and near the Power and Light District.

“That’s in its third year,” Toni said. “It’s very similar to New York City and Times Square. They decorate their windows for Christmas with all kinds of themes and merchandise. It’s Kansas City’s take on that.”

For many, she said, shopping is the main draw. For others, it’s arts and culture. For a foodie and booze guy who migrates to unique drinking and dining options, such as myself, the city offers a lot.

Public disclaimer: I’m a little bit of them all. But many other K.C. visitors are there simply for the city’s Christmas lights and family traditions.

“Arts and culture are so popular,” she said. “But the beautiful lights on the Plaza and the mayor’s 100-foot-tall Christmas tree at Crown Center are great. The ice-skating is popular, too. There’s so much to do around the holidays.”

The Kansas City Ballet’s “Nutcracker” is a good bet. I caught a performance a couple of weeks ago, and it’s worth the short drive. This rendition of the classic Christmas tale is sure to fill you with the holiday spirit. The Kansas City Symphony’s accompaniment is also outstanding. It’s a total-package performance — it has dancing, music, creative costumes and diverse sets. Hundreds of ballet fans filled the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts for the ballet’s opening performance.

“‘Nutcracker’ is a holiday tradition that’s been going for more than 80 years,” Toni said. “Now, it’s at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It’s become an even bigger holiday tradition for many families around Kansas City. It’s just part of the K.C. holiday celebration.”

Another Christmas classic, “A Christmas Carol,” will draw crowds to the Spencer Theatre, home of Kansas City Repertory Theatre, through Dec. 26.

“‘Christmas Carol’ is another favorite,” Toni said. “Going to see Scrooge and Marley and Tiny Tim at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre is another holiday tradition.”

Many K.C. visitors love a sweet pulled pork platter and a cold beer. Whether patrons are looking for a high-end wine and dining experience or a fun brewery tour and tasting room experience at Boulevard Brewery, there are dozens — hundreds, most likely — of easy options.

“We are known for steak and barbecue,” Toni said. “We have more barbecue restaurants per capita with more than 80. But we are also very diverse. We have celebrity chefs and lots of ethnic cuisine. You can just take your pick and eat your way through town.”

Toni suggested you make room for dessert. I