Business has been quieter in downtown Burlington this year with retailers reporting declines in sales of as much as 50 percent.

With the arrival of the Christmas tree at the top of Church Street Marketplace on Wednesday, the Burlington Business Association says there’s a sense of urgency to this year’s holiday shopping season

“You know, there’s a feeling that this is a really important holiday season for downtown Burlington, for it to be a success,” said Colin Hilliard, the BBA’s deputy director.

Downtown’s struggles have led two long-time Church Street Marketplace businesses to change course. Outdoor Exchange announced in September that it would downsize it’s two-story location and open up a store in Essex.

And just this week, El Gato Cantina announced they would close after 14 years and put their restaurant space up for sale.

“I think there’s been some challenges for folks, both due to macroeconomic trends,” Hilliard said. “Also there’s no doubt that Burlington is having some public safety challenges right now.”

But Hilliard adds that there is reason to be optimistic, as well. Downtown businesses are being more aggressive with promotions they hjope will encourage more shoppers to come downtown.

Hen of the Wood, next to the Hotel Vermont on Cherry Street, is offering a half-dozen free oysters to anyone who spends $50 downtown. And Lake Champlain Chocolates on Church Street Marketplace will offer free hot chocolate as part of a Shop and Sip campaign.

“An awesome opportunity to warm up when folks come see the tree lighting,” Hilliard says.

Hilliard said there are other reasons to be optimistic this holiday season. New businesses are ready to step in and fill the void created by the departures.

And construction is moving along on the long-delayed CityPlace project, as well as the renovations at the downtown Hilton, which will include a new restaurant by the same group that owns Hen of the Wood.

“We’ve weathered the pandemic quite well here in Burlington and in Vermont,” Hilliard said, “and I see no reason that we can’t rise to really any challenges that we’re facing here.”