By Kevin Haas
    Rock River Current
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    ROCKFORD — This year’s Stroll on State attracted more than 70,000 people to downtown, bringing the total attendance for the annual holiday festival to more than a half-million people over its 10-year run, according to the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

    The visitors bureau contracts a firm that uses mobile device data to estimate attendance, and today it said an estimated 70,050 people were at this year’s event. That’s a 12% increase from last year’s estimated 62,500 guests. The festival attracted crowds estimated at more than 80,000 in its peak years in 2017 and 2018.

    Stroll on State illustrates year after year what can be accomplished when a community comes together,” Mayor Tom McNamara said in a news release. “The economic impact, small businesses support, partnership and welcoming atmosphere all speak to our region’s culture of collaboration and belonging.

    “I can’t think of a better way for our community to kick off the holiday season each year.”

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    People gather at Main and Elm streets in downtown Rockford on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, for the Stroll on State tree-lighting ceremony. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

    An estimated 520,800 people have attended the Stroll during its 10 years, according to the visitors bureau. That number doesn’t include 2020, when the event was held virtually during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

    The bureau estimates about 75% of attendees were from Winnebago County and more than 5% traveled from outside Illinois.

    “Stroll on State is a tradition for Rockford families and visitors,” Kristen Paul, the visitors bureau’s vice president of destination development, said in a news release. “This year was particularly heart-warming as we celebrated 10 years of Stroll’s impact.

    “During the tree lighting ceremony, I loved seeing our community all together – with folks filling the streets and overflowing to fill the outside stairwells of the BMO Center and looking on from each floor of the adjacent parking lot. It seemed like everyone wanted to be part of that moment and it’s a memory I’ll always cherish.”

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    Jarrod Hennis, the owner of Rockford Art Deli in downtown, said his team always looks forward to Stroll on State.

    “It’s one of our busiest days of the year, and — despite some unexpected surprises — this year was no different in that regard,” Hennis said in a news release.

    The “unexpected surprise” was a power outage that blacked out a few blocks of downtown with about two hours left in the event. ComEd said the outage was caused by a single mylar balloon that made contact with a power line near Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens several blocks north of the event.

    “Even amidst a power outage, downtown Rockford still showed up with high spirits, happy attitudes, and much appreciated patience,” Hennis said. “And that’s the 815 that RAD has always been proud to represent.”

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    This year’s Stroll on State came with some unseasonably warm weather, and it had changes that included a new location for the city’s official Christmas tree, a Block 5 party and 10 selfie stations spread throughout downtown.

    There was also a parade with 10 inflatable balloons, including two that were Rockford themed. One balloon paid homage to the Rockford Peaches, the beloved World War II-era women’s professional baseball team, and the other was a replica of the checkered five-neck guitar used by Rick Nielsen of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Cheap Trick.

    “Stroll has become the marquee community event in our annual community calendar. It is due to the hard work of the RACVB, the thousands of volunteers and all the support of sponsors that allow our community to execute on such a world-class event,” said Jeff Hultman, chief executive officer of Illinois Bank & Trust, the event’s presenting sponsor. “It continues to represent the best in us as a region. We encourage everyone to return downtown throughout the year to continue to support our local businesses and our local center city. We are already looking forward to next year’s event.”

    Zach Hedrington and Taylor Gruenberg kiss under the Mistletoe Magic station on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, during Stroll on State in downtown Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

    Hundreds of volunteers make the event possible, doing everything from decorating to cleanup and helping visitors.

    The 11th annual event is slated for Nov. 25.

    Stroll on State | By the numbers

    85 sponsors and partners

    2,400 volunteer hours working the event

    815 Dasher Dash 5K runners

    46 outdoor food and retail vendors

    350 ornaments on the city’s Christmas tree

    68 large gift boxes decorating downtown

    1,003 letters by children to Santa, including 60 from other states and three from other countries

    10 parade balloons

    82 decorated Jeeps in the parade

    70,050 estimated attendance

    Source: Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

    This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on Twitter at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas.

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