12 Dec Holiday Train Hunt inspires new tradition in downtown Rock Island
A bright green metal caboose ornament from Rock Island hangs on 5-year-old Tyreese Resech’s Christmas tree is a special tradition that’s in its second year.
The Hunt for the Holiday Train organized by the Rock Island Downtown Alliance and sponsored by Crawford Company and Jackson Auto Body & Custom Paint is fostering that tradition throughout the community, as well as casting a spotlight on businesses downtown and helping to keep dollars local.
Tyreese’s mom, Rosanne Resech of Davenport, said the ornament hunt is creating memories for her family. “My son is really into trains; he’s a big Thomas the Tank Engine fan,” she said. “He helped me search for the ornaments. We enjoy hunting for them.” And in the process, Resech discovered new businesses and did some shopping.
Spellbound, a specialty new age gift shop at 217 17th St., is a new favorite destination for her. “I really liked that store. They have a lot of interesting things in there I wouldn’t see anyplace else,” she said, noting she will return after the holidays. “That is one thing I really do like about the holiday train. It gets me to the smaller places I don’t normally visit. I want to see what they offer before I go to the big box stores.”
The ornament hunt “is something I can do with my son, spending time with him,” she said. “It’s part of my Christmas tradition.”
The objective of the ornament hunt is to visit participating businesses to spot the train ornament hidden somewhere in the establishment. A filled card of 10 visits earns those in the hunt one of the ornaments when the cards are turned in to the downtown Rock Island Public Library, Quad City Arts or Quad City Botanical Center. This year, almost 50 businesses are participating.
“It’s going well,” said DeAnna Freeman-Foster, a co-owner with Anthony Jones of Big T Wear at 1700 2nd Ave., Suites 4 and 5, in Rock Island. “The nice thing (about the promotion) is that it brings in a whole new set of customers we would not normally get,” she said. “They come in as strangers and leave as friends.”
For the second year in a row, Crawford Company and Jackson Auto Body & Custom Paint teamed up to create a unique, dated metal train ornament to continue Rock Island’s salute to its storied railroad heritage. In 2022, it was a red locomotive. The ornaments are laser-cut by employees at Crawford, and spray-painted by Rick Jackson, owner of Jackson Auto Body with his wife, Shannon. This year, 200 ornaments were produced.
Emily Adams, Business Development Manager for Crawford, said Jack Cullen, Executive Director of the Rock Island Downtown Alliance, approached the company last year with the idea of creating the ornament. It takes a day for the company to produce the metal trains.
“The Downtown Alliance and its mission are something we’re in support of,” Adams said. “It’s fun to be involved.” Though Crawford is not located in the downtown, “It helps us to have a strong downtown.”
Rick Jackson said he has fun with the project, taking some time to pick just the right color of green, adding metallic sparkle to it, a spattering of white dots and a final coat of sealer. He likes the idea of putting small businesses in the spotlight and is happy to be able to help his community through the ornament project. “I like to give back to the community,” he said. “I get more reward out of helping people than taking.”
Cullen credits Freeman-Foster, Brandy VandeWalle of Skeleton Key Art and Antiques, and Annette Hutto of Cool Beanz for helping him come up with the Train Hunt concept.
“I picked their very savvy retail brains when we were considering starting an ornament hunt last year in downtown Rock Island, and we landed on the train and idea to partner with Crawford and Jackson Auto Body to help bring the vision to life,” he said. (Spoiler alert: Look for two more pieces of the train in 2024 and 2025).
Statistics from 2022 show more than 1,300 engagements with businesses due to the train hunt – that’s more than 130 filled cards turned in.
“We’re hopeful we can surpass that this year,” Cullen said, adding there’s also a limited amount of the custom 2022 train ornaments available at each pickup location for those who complete this year’s hunt but missed last year’s promotion.
Dennis Hockaday, owner of Ragged Records & Music at 311 ½ 21st St., Rock Island, said he’s seen some new faces and a few sales resulting from the ornament hunt. “I would definitely participate next year,” he said.
The Downtown Davenport Partnership is hosting an ornament hunt as well – for a green pickle ornament produced on 3-D printers by students at Western Illinois University’s Quad Cities campus. The ornament hunts are the second major promotion for Deck the Downtowns going on through Jan. 1. Now running in Davenport, Rock Island and Bettendorf is the Holiday Display Challenge, featuring window displays throughout the downtowns painted by local artists. People can vote online for their favorite displays and earn a chance to win prizes.