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Originally published December 20, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 20, 2006 at 6:23 PM

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Bellevue Square spends big on its classic Christmas display

Macy's has its Thanksgiving Day parade. Rockefeller Center a famed ice rink and tree. Bellevue Square? Try 120 carolers and not-so-little...

Seattle Times retail reporter

Macy's has its Thanksgiving Day parade. Rockefeller Center a famed ice rink and tree.

Bellevue Square? Try 120 carolers and not-so-little drummer boys performing nightly.

In matching uniforms and embroidered capes.

Never mind the light show. Or faux snow dusting.

Welcome to the Experience Economy, boys and girls.

"It's very labor intensive," said Greg Thompson, whose Seattle-based company produces the 30-day, $1 million downtown Bellevue show.

A million bucks? That's a lot of carolers.

Snowflake Lane

Performances: Snowflake Lane runs 7 p.m. nightly through Sunday. A new show, "Celebration Lane," runs Tuesday through year's end.

Source: Kemper Development Co.

Kemper Development introduced "Snowflake Lane" last holiday season to mark the debut of its hotel, office and retail complex, Lincoln Square, and to unify its nearby properties, Bellevue Square and Bellevue Place.

The Bellevue Collection — at the corner Eighth Street and Bellevue Way — includes 250 shops, 18 sit-down restaurants, a 16-screen cinema, 700 hotel rooms and 10,000 retail parking spaces.

Developer Kemper Freeman Jr., who has long-range visions of Bellevue's own Magnificent Mile dancing in his head, has sought to create an iconic holiday show for the region.

The shopping center draws people as far away as Idaho, Alaska, parts of Oregon and Eastern Washington — places where they have The Gap, but not Crate and Barrel.

"Shopping isn't about the transaction, it's about the experience," said Jennifer Leavitt, marketing vice president for Kemper Development. "In this market, people can choose to go many places."

To be sure, retailers have sought new ways to differentiate themselves, particularly in an era when goods and services are largely commodities.

Joe Pine, who co-authored the 1999 book, "The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage," said shopping has taken yet another turn — this time to retail tourism.

More shops and shopping centers offer distinctive experiences that transport shoppers to another time or place. (Think of Starbucks as the tidier, hipper version of your living room.)

"Everything in Las Vegas is coming to your town," Pine said. "It's just a matter of when and in what exact shape."

On a recent Friday evening, people chose to watch the show from the sidewalks on Bellevue Way, four-deep. Restaurant wait lines were an hour-plus.

The show featured a computer-programmed light show, nearly 60 life-size toy soldiers, 36 snow machines, six quartets and a 40-foot Christmas tree with 184,000 lights.

"It's almost like getting ready for a theater rush," said Pagliacci Pizza owner Matt Galvin, who has a store at Bellevue Square. "People come in and say, 'Listen we have to leave by 6:30 because Snowflake Lane is starting.' "

Last year, the three-week show drew more than 200,000 people. Leavitt said they expect to exceed that number this year, even though they canceled the show last Friday because of the windstorm.

The show is popular enough that they plan to add a new show, "Celebration Lane," between Dec. 26 and 31.

The question now is whether the snow, er show, will stick in future holiday seasons. "I certainly hope so," said Thompson, who produces the show. "If they don't, we'll have drums for sale."

Monica Soto Ouchi: 206-515-5632 or

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