ROCKFORD — The city’s celebration of the holiday season brought thousands of people to the streets of downtown Saturday.
The ninth annual Stroll on State featured family friendly activities including ice skating at the BMO Harris Bank Center, three separate tree lighting ceremonies and fireworks.
Antonita Johnston of Rockford and her daughters Melody Lewis, 10, and Lyric Lewis, 7, enjoyed a ride through downtown on a horse drawn wagon.
“They took us for a ride for about four blocks,” Johnston said. “We got to look at everything that’s going on here so it was really nice.”
Stroll on State’s parade route kicked off at Main and Chestnut streets, headed north to State and then east across the State Street Bridge, ending at Third Street.
James and Carrie Smith of Rockford and their 7-year-old twins, Zoey and Chloe, watched the festivities from the State Street Bridge.
“I really enjoy all of the displays and the floats,” James Smith said as his daughters scrambled for candy tossed to the curb by parade participants. “The weather is not too bad this year.”
Stroll on State also featured a variety of food to satisfy the heartiest of appetites.
Dallas Belmontes of Rockford and her daughter, Olivia, enjoyed chicken tenders from Disco Chicken, a food truck that was parked on Water Street next to City Market Pavilion.
“We’re going to check out the reindeers and then we’re going to go ice skating,” Belmontes said. “I like how the activities are spread out this year. In prior years, it was condensed. Stroll on State kicks off our holiday season.”
Downtown businesses benefited from the increased foot traffic, said Karen Elyea, owner of Minglewood Boutique, 333 E. State Street.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for new people to get a chance to see what I have to offer,” Elyea said. “Lots of people who probably don’t come downtown see the stores. It’s great.”
After last year’s Stroll on State was converted into a virtual event to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus, Saturday’s Stroll more closely resembled those prior to the pandemic.
There was a heavier-than-normal police presence and additional barricades used around the festival's perimeter this year after a man drove an SUV through a holiday parade in Wisconsin last weekend, killing six and injuring dozens.
Early Saturday morning, Rockford police officers instructed members of the May 30th Alliance to vacate their regular protest site in front of City Hall for the duration of the event.
Alliance member Ari Perez, 21, of Rockford, said he was taken into custody and charged with obstructing after he wrote protest messages on the sidewalk.
“I think I was treated unfairly just by the nature of what was written in chalk,” Perez said after being released from jail. “It wasn’t slur words or anything even really against anybody. I wrote ‘Justice for’ and then wrote down the names of people who have been brutalized by the police.”
Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara's office released the following statement:
“Everyone is welcome to attend Stroll on State. ... However, protesting or demonstrations of any kind will not be allowed inside the footprint of the event.”
This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Stroll on State rings in the holiday season in downtown Rockford