Last week, the Christmas Stroll took over downtown with trolley rides on Main Street, marshmallow roasting on Grinnell Plaza and live music in shops. Hundreds of locals braved black ice for the ultimate Sheridan “experience” — a trend that is buzzing in our town and beyond.

In a recent study, researchers at the University of Toronto found that people are happier in the long term when they receive an experience rather than a material object. Locally, more and more brick-and-mortar business owners are recognizing that the experience economy is more than a passing trend.

Earlier this week, Twisted Hearts hosted a trunk show featuring “Art off the Wall,” gorgeous, vibrant designs on scarves and pillows created by local artist Arin Waddell. Attendees enjoyed a twofold experience as they explored the boutique and interacted with art in a fresh, approachable way.

The same day, our team at The Sheridan Press hosted the first exclusive Press Pass-only event in partnership with SAGE Community Arts. Members enjoyed refreshments as the nationally acclaimed artist John W. Taft offered a guided first look of his new exhibition, sharing behind-the-scenes stories along the way.

Fear not, introverts: Not all “experiences” must be events, which would create fatigue in even the most outgoing of us.

“A great experience can just be looking at a beautiful window display or walking through a really great store,” one local business owner told me recently. “It can be simple, like sitting in a cafe, reading a book. That’s an experience.”

No matter the format, curating “experiences” is a creative and effective way to engage customers.

The idea is not new. Before the age of Amazon and Netflix, we naturally had “experiences” in our daily life. To survive, we had to buy everything in shops — food, clothes, books, gear — expanding our individual communities by forging relationships at our usual places. To be entertained, we had to go to the theater, walk around town or, at the very least, head to Video Depot to peruse the new releases.

Life may be easier online, but humans crave interaction. Our new trend toward experience is a reaction against the digital world. Millennials and Gen Z may need a stronger reason to go to brick-and-mortar stores than our Baby Boomer parents, but we are more intentionally heading that direction.

This idea inspired us to create Press Pass, which is completing its first year. We wanted to encourage people to interact more with the organizations that make Sheridan County a wonderful place to live. The membership program includes a premium subscription to The Press, in addition to exclusive experiences at local cafes, breweries, bookstores, outdoor retailers and more. In 2020, we are expanding our offerings to include special access to the biggest events in town.

So, as you continue into the season of giving, consider the gift of experience. Share the fun of a cooking class, the bustle of dance lessons or hey, a Press Pass.