This holiday season retailers are counting on Santa visits and special events to pull customers away from their screens and into stores.

“A strong events program to attract visitors has become a critical part of running a successful shopping district,” said Anna Zevenhuizen, of Midtown Events, which plans 400 North Hills events annually, including Santa visits. “You see a lot of retail centers beginning to focus on events to give shoppers more reasons to visit.”

While holiday parties may be new for some, they have been part of the North Hills’ experience from the beginning. The annual Tree Lighting Celebration – this year’s being on November 18 – is a prime example of one such event. Folks from across the Triangle come together for some holiday fun and to kick-off what’s sure to be a bustling few weeks leading up to Christmas.

“Our goal has always been to make North Hills a destination, and the tree lighting has become one of our most beloved traditions drawing families year after year,” said Zevenhuizen.

North Hills stores will host a Sip & Shop from noon until 4 p.m. with hot cocoa and cider, followed by the Tree Lighting Celebration from 4 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. This year’s Tree Lighting Celebration offers many free activities for children, including a trackless train, snow slopes for sledding, a bounce house, and face painting. The event will culminate with Santa’s arrival at 6 p.m. and the lighting of the 41-foot Christmas tree.

“Having a place people visit for a variety of reasons – events, shopping, dining and services – is a very sustainable model, and what we have worked to create at North Hills,” says T.J. Barringer, Kane Realty’s director of development. “Considering the pressure that online is putting on the retail industry, it is important to give guests many reasons to visit.”

The Tree Lighting Celebration with Santa is a great reason to visit North Hills this month and something families cannot experience online.