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When Addison Gaff looked up and saw two horses driving a car­riage past her downtown Hillsdale shop, she knew the local fall fes­tival was a bigger deal than she’d imagined.

Carlie, 8, and Carsin, 6, enjoy par­tic­i­pating in the costume contest at Awesome Autumn. Nicole Ault | Col­legian

“I had no idea it was this big of an event,” Gaff said of Hillsdale’s “Awesome Autumn” fall fest, held annually for the past seven or eight years by the Hillsdale Business Asso­ci­ation, according to the event’s com­mittee co-chair and HBA pres­ident, Cindy Bieszk.

Modern Revival, the shabby chic fur­niture store where Gaff works, joined about 30 downtown shops in opening their doors from 5 – 8 p.m. on Tuesday, offering free food and activ­ities for streams of patrons. Dressed in cos­tumes, a few hundred children — and their parents — enjoyed the car­riage ride, free candy and pumpkins, greeting princesses outside of Smith’s Flower Shop, and a big red moon­bounce set up by Sal­vation Army outside the cour­t­house.

“The ultimate goal of Awesome Autumn is to keep our downtown vibrant and growing,” Bieszk said. “We want everyone in all the shops.”

The event included a costume contest for kids and prize drawings at shops that sported paper pumpkins on their doors. Nothing dif­fered sig­nif­i­cantly from pre­vious years, Bieszk said.

Store­keepers mea­sured their traffic by goods con­sumed: Cus­tomers grabbed 200 bags of pumpkin cotton candy by 6:30 at Small Town Sweet Bou­tique and picked up 250 pumpkins by 6:45 at Smith’s flower shop.

At Jilly Beans coffee shop, kids painted pumpkins that they’d picked up for free down the street at Smith’s.

“He’s going to a dance,” said seven-year-old Tate Ortiz, care­fully adorning his pumpkin with felt stickers shaped like a suit and bowtie.

Small Town Sweet Bou­tique opened just three weeks ago, and owner Danielle Brock said she hadn’t known what to expect. More people came than she had cotton candy for, and they weren’t just children: Two older men in black leather jackets mut­tered some­thing about being like Ronald Reagan as they took free samples of jelly beans.

Checker Records coffee shop handed out hot chocolate. Nutrition Solu­tions offered protein shakes and cookies. All Aboard Travel cooked up chicken and pork on kabobs. Besides pumpkins, Smith’s Flower Shop served bar­becue sand­wiches from the House of Pizza and BBQ.

Patrons included college stu­dents, part of Bieszk’s goal.

“It’s some­times hard to get stu­dents down the hill,” she said. “We do have a good downtown, and we want to remember what we have.”

“It’s a good com­munity-building event with the college,” said Hillsdale College senior Jenna Biggs, who came with two friends. “It’s the only thing that would get us down here on a weekday evening in the middle of midterms.”

Several stores propped up scare­crows for a com­pe­tition. At the Blossom Shop, owner Kathy Newell showed off their special straw man: a replica of the store’s founder, Karl Katzen­meyer, com­plete with a black-and-white photo of his face with a pipe in his mouth.

“The best part of Awesome Autumn is having a beau­tiful night,” Newell said, “and people being able to come and enjoy the downtown like it used to be.”

Though the costume contest and free pumpkins are for kids, no one’s too old to come. Sarah Broughman, a white-haired lady who works at the Hillsdale College dining hall, laughed as she watched her middle-aged daughter, Melissa Broughman, play with a battery-operated witch’s broom not far from the cour­t­house.

Melissa said she couldn’t resist buying the toy, and that the two enjoyed the treats, the nice weather, and the fall atmos­phere.

The two said they looked forward to vis­iting the candy store — “a dan­gerous place to go” because of her sweet tooth, Sarah said — and going on a car­riage ride.

“We’re still kids at heart,” Sarah said.