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MUSCATINE – The tradition lives on.

The 34th Muscatine Holiday Stroll is tonight in downtown Muscatine beginning at 5:30 p.m. The event draws thousands every year.

Each year, participating businesses have decorated store fronts and some may have in-store specials or serve food and drinks. This year is no different. From 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, 2nd Street from Pine Street to Mulberry Avenue will be blocked off to traffic for visitors to browse, shop and see festive holiday displays.

The free event, which draws thousands, is sponsored by local businesses, such as Toyota of Muscatine and the Muscatine Journal. It will kick off at 5:30 p.m. with a tree lighting ceremony in the First National Bank plaza. This is the third year for the lighting ceremony featuring the tree donated by Jerry Lange of Muscatine.

"We are proud to sponsor this annual tradition," said Debbie Anselm, publisher of the Muscatine Journal, Quad-City Times and Dispatch-Argus. "As a part of the Muscatine community, we look forward to ushering in the season with an event that encourages residents and visitors alike to enjoy all that Muscatine has to offer. The lighting of the tree, strolling carolers and special offerings from local merchants are all part of the magic of the Holiday Stroll."

One group joining the stroll for the first time is Pearl City Life Riders motorcycle riding club. President Matt Peine said the group is hosting a coat drive at the event to collect new or gently used coats, hats and gloves to donate to Jessica Faye's Closet at Pearl City Outreach.

About 20 riders will be stationed outside Stigma Tattoo, 106 E. 2nd St., serving free hot cocoa and snacks.

The Merrill Hotel, which opened earlier this year, will also participate in the stroll. The lobby is decorated for the holidays and during the event, Santa and Mrs. Claus will listen to children's wish lists and be available for photographs, with guitarist Matt Hepker playing live, said Lori Denney, director of sales and marketing at the hotel.

The hotel will also have complementary hot cocoa and cookies for visitors and will offer free horse and buggy rides around the hotel block. Maxwell's will serve dinner specials and have chili and chicken noodle soup available for purchase.

"It's part of being part of the community and being a central hub," Denney said.

"The stroll is an example of a wonderful community celebration," Muscatine Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Jodi Hansen said. "It gives people the opportunity to get together with their friends and family and celebrate the holiday season and downtown Muscatine. It's also a great opportunity for folks to see what downtown Muscatine offers."

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