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Few stores left, but malls deck the halls

There are fewer and fewer stores open in downtown Salt Lake City's Crossroads Plaza and ZCMI Center malls this Christmas season.

The looming $500 million renovation of the two malls has forced out many former tenants, and mall managers have put up signs announcing that the renovation is imminent.

But the vacancies and pending demolition haven't stopped the powers that be from at least trying to drum up some Christmas spirit downtown.

Mayor Rocky Anderson officially kicked off the city's annual Christmas free parking program at a press conference Wednesday. From now until Jan. 2, shoppers can park at city parking meters for free for up to two hours.

While the move costs the city thousands of dollars in parking meter revenue, city leaders have in years past hoped the added incentive of free parking for shoppers would offset the revenue losses.

Like free parking, many of the usual traditions are still in place downtown — Temple Square lights, for starters.

And it isn't like the downtown malls are closed. Meier & Frank and Nordstrom are open and mall managers have decked out their centers with all the traditional Christmas regalia.

The ZCMI Center even has its traditional stage set up for children's groups to come and offer musical and dance performances. This year, however, those performances will be done in front of a slew of vacant storefronts.

While downtown advocates look to add excitement to the sparsely populated downtown malls, other Salt Lake City retail centers — like The Gateway and Trolley Square — are hoping to pick up some of the slack.

At The Gateway, mall managers are moving forward with their traditional Christmas festivities — like the lighting today of a massive Christmas tree near the Olympic legacy fountain.

"People have embraced Gateway in the years past as part of the Christmas holiday tradition," Gateway project manager Jake Boyer said. "The thing that's nice is Gateway has given people a reason to keep coming."

The Gateway will also feature a holiday craft market Dec. 9-10.

At Trolley Square mall managers are planning a few extras this year.

Previously, Santa and Mrs. Claus only showed up at Trolley one day of the Christmas shopping season.

This year the couple will be on hand each Friday and Saturday night of the shopping season up to Dec. 17, assistant marketing director Nataley Horton said.