OAKLAND -- Oren Frieson is really clear about what he wants for Christmas -- a PlayStation Portable.

And he told Santa Claus as much when he jumped up into his red felt-covered lap during Piedmont Avenue's fifth annual Tree Lighting and Holiday Stroll on Dec. 7.

The 6-year-old Piedmont Avenue Elementary student, whose family recently relocated to Oakland from Marietta, Ga., was among dozens who braved one of the coldest nights of the year to visit with the jolly old gift-giver and watch red lights twinkle on the tree at Key Route Plaza.

The temperature hovered in the low 40s as shoppers stopped for a holiday cookie, hot beverage and a few Christmas carols led by accordion player Salane Schultz.

Santa Claus, also known as Doug McKechnie, talks to 5-year-old Olive Thompson of Oakland on Piedmont Avenue.
Santa Claus, also known as Doug McKechnie, talks to 5-year-old Olive Thompson of Oakland on Piedmont Avenue.

"It was really nice," said Oren's mother, Thelma. "It's cold. I was really surprised."

Noella Teele, co-owner of ISSUES and a co-founder of the event, said Saturday's turnout was the largest to date.

Organized by the Piedmont Avenue Merchants Association, the evening is designed to build a sense of community and attract shoppers to the small, independent stores that line the North Oakland corridor -- many of which stayed open late Saturday.

"I'm really pleased so many people came out despite the cold snap," Teele said.

Jill and Andy Thompson, of Oakland, bundled up their two children, Olive, 5, and Reed, 2, to attend.

"It really feels like a small town," Jill Thompson said, adding that, "We try to shop locally as much as possible."

District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb, whose district includes Piedmont Avenue, said he was pleased that even in a city as large as Oakland, there can be a strong neighborhood identity.

"It brings families together and reminds people that, if you are going to go shopping, you might as well shop in Oakland," Kalb said of the event.

The merchants association will host its monthly stroll from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 19, with more than 25 businesses offering specials.

Children from Piedmont Avenue Elementary lead a holiday carol before the tree was lit at Key Route Plaza during the 5th annual Tree Lighting and Holiday
Children from Piedmont Avenue Elementary lead a holiday carol before the tree was lit at Key Route Plaza during the 5th annual Tree Lighting and Holiday Stroll.

Go to www.piedmontavestroll.org.

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