Taulia Catlin, co-owner of Middle David’s Artisan Candles in Franklin, inside the store on Tuesday, Oct. 31. Catlin helped establish the Downtown Franklin Holiday Open House, now in its 11th year. More than 40 businesses are taking part in the event, which runs from Friday to Sunday. RYAN TRARES | DAILY JOURNAL

Jack ‘o’ lanterns and ghostly decorations still populate front porches all over Johnson County.

But in downtown Franklin this weekend, the mood will be much more “Winter Wonderland” than “Monster Mash.”

More than 40 local boutiques, eateries and shops will have their festive best ready for customers during the Holiday Open House — what has become an annual tradition in Franklin.

Now in its 11th year, shoppers can search for one-of-a-kind gifts, from clothing to jewelry to home decor and much, much more, while also being eligible to win more than $1,250 in prizes.

The open house has proven not only to jump-start the holiday shopping season for small businesses but has become a can’t-miss event each year.

“I love that it’s become a tradition for some people. There are a lot of people who tell us they do it every year,” said Tauria Catlin, co-owner of Middle David’s Artisan Candles and founder of the Holiday Open House. “To be able to tell people that you don’t have to be able to spend a penny is important. The whole point was to get people to come into the stores and see what’s available for shopping locally before they go online or look elsewhere.”

The Holiday Open House was created in 2012, when Catlin decided to host a Christmas-themed showcase at Middle David’s. She was surprised by the response to the event, not only on the day of the open house but in the following weeks.

Local shoppers viewed it more as an occasion rather than simply a sale.

“I was really pleasantly surprised when I had people who hadn’t even been to the event came up later and apologized for missing our event,” Catlin said. “They were treating it like a neighborly invitation rather than a Christmas sale. I thought that was really awesome.”

The following year, Catlin reached out to some other downtown business owners to band together and host events and activities at their individual stores all on the same day. Shops and boutiques could work as one to show people what’s available during the holiday season.

“What if we did them at the same time, and it got people to come to Franklin and shop?” she said. “I walked around town and talked to everybody — insurance agents, hair salons, restaurants, not just retailers.”

Businesses responded with enthusiasm, as about 20 signed up that year. More important, the community came out in droves.

The Holiday Open House has grown ever since. Now, more than 1,000 people typically wander from shop to shop throughout downtown Franklin.

Organizers have lined up 41 businesses to take part in this year’s event.

“There’s a festive feel. I just love it,” Catlin said.

Even though Halloween was just yesterday , downtown merchants have been gearing up for the Holiday Open House for weeks. Garland and lights fill the stores, as Christmas carols drift through the spaces.

Santas, snowmen and stockings are ubiquitous.

At Farm Girl Mercantile, lights have been strung, vintage trees have been set up and the rustic decor is arranged just so.

“It’s our biggest sales weekend for the entire year,” said Tracy Bohler, owner of Farm Girl Mercantile. “I love it all. It’s so much fun getting everything joyful. With everything going on in the world, people turn to Christmas and some of these shops for the nostalgia, that retail therapy, those memories of Christmas past.”

All different kinds of businesses are taking part. People can pick up artwork from some of the region’s best artists at Generation Art and Frame. Sift through wonderfully preserved architectural items at Madison Street Salvage. Grab the latest bestsellers or longtime favorite books at Wild Geese Bookshop.

Not everything is about finding gifts, either. Shoppers can restore thier energy with food from Court Street Cafe, Norma Jean’s Pastries, Maye’s Grill Express Mexican Food and Greek’s Pizzeria & Tapp Room. Caffeinate their experience with stops at Main and Madison Market Cafe, 1823 Bakehouse, Benjamin’s Coffeehouse & Bakeshop, the Local Grind or Coffeehouse Five.

Haberdasher Artisan Distillery, which opened its taproom at Garment Factory Events in mid-October, will have special hours on Friday and Saturday. The distillery hopes to offer a refuge where shoppers can get off their feet and recharge for a moment, as well as offer a variety of gifts for spirits enthusiasts.

Not only will their handmade selection of gin and whiskey be available to purchase, but the distillery offers for sale a collection of glassware shipped directly from Scotland.

Upstairs Basement is another business that recently opened and is taking part for the first time. The upscale boutique offers a variety of unique decor, collectibles, and other items.

At the Johnson County Museum of History, the annual Artisan Market will feature local creators and all of the wonderful things they make, for shoppers looking to add a handmade touch to their gift lists this year.

“The Downtown Franklin Holiday Open House is a wonderful community event that ties in so well with our Artisan Market,” said David Pfeiffer, director of the museum. “It showcases all the businesses in the downtown area and we want to make sure visitors are aware of what we can offer.”

From Nov. 3 to 6, people can visit any of the participating stores and have the chance to win one of the prizes organizers have lined up. Visit any participating merchant to pick up a map of the open house, as well as a punch card.

Once shoppers visit at least 10 participating businesses and get the card punched, they’re eligible for prizes — no purchase necessary.

Organizers have lined up a variety of prizes donated by participating businesses, so people will have the chance to win one of 10 prize packs valued at $100. A $250 grand prize pack is also available.

Seeing so many different shops and restaurants and other businesses working together over the years to lift the entire downtown community has been special for Catlin.

“It feels like to me that there’s definitely a business community here. Everyone is so supportive,” she said.


Downtown Franklin Holiday Open House

What: A holiday-themed opportunity to visit about 40 different small businesses and shops, with $1,250 in prizes available to shoppers along the way.

When: Friday through Sunday

Where: Downtown Franklin. Maps can be found at any participating business, or at the Discover Downtown Franklin Facebook page.

Participating businesses (those not open on Sunday are marked with a star): 10 Pins Franklin, 1823 Bakehouse, A Trophy Business*, At Home With Heartland, Benjamin’s Coffeehouse & Bakeshop, Brick Street Boutique, BYTAVI Boutique, Coffeehouse Five, Court Street Cafe, Eclectic Jade, Embolden Medspa, Farm Girl Mercantile, Festival Country Visitor’s Center, Franklin Coin Shop, Franklin Jewelers, FrenChic, Frozen Paradise, Generation Art and Frame, Greek’s Pizzeria & Tapp Room, Haberdasher Artisan Distillery, Hoosier Cupboard Candy, Snacks and Ice Cream, Johnson County Museum of History, JP Parker Flowers*, Madison Street Salvage, Main & Madison Market Cafe, Maye’s Grill Express Mexican Food, Middle Davids Candles, Millie’s Ice Cream Co., Norma Jean’s Pastries, Possibilities: Home Re-Imagined, Salvage Sisters Antique Market, Small Town Girl Boutique, Thanks for the Thyme, The Grove Botany Boutique, The Knitting Otter*, The Local Grind, Toodleydoo Toys, T-Shirt Express, Upstairs Basement, Vintage Whimsy and Wild Geese Bookshop.