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Shop, drop and stroll
Marketplace benefits long-term care facility while offering Christmas deals
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What: More than 70 merchants and crafters from throughout the Southeast. Handmade and gift items.

When: Preview party, 6:30-9:30 p.m. today; regular hours, 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Gainesville Civic Center, 830 Green St., Gainesville

How Much: Preview party, $40 per person; Marketplace, $5 adults, free for children age 12 and younger

More info: 770-219-1830

If you're looking to mark a few names off your Christmas list early, you can start at Marketplace, the annual shopping event hosted by The Medical Center Auxiliary of Northeast Georgia Health System.

The event, which opens tonight with a preview party at Gainesville Civic Center, and continues through Saturday, will benefit New Horizons North, the health system's long-term care facility.

Lynne Allen, director of volunteer services for Northeast Georgia Medical Center, said the dated facility is in need of a makeover.

Allen said proceeds from Marketplace will go toward improvements at New Horizons, including updates to "living areas, like the living room areas, the dining room (and) some outdoor courtyard garden areas."

"It's areas where the residents and their family members spend a lot of time," Allen said.

"We're just really excited about that, because that will make it a warmer, more friendly environment for patients and their families," said Jennifer Bagwell, one of the event's chairwomen.

Last year's event drew almost 3,500 shoppers, Allen said, and the chairwomen, Bagwell, Meg Nivens and Beverly Filson, along with volunteers, have been working for more than 8 months to ensure this year's success.

"The chairs and the volunteers, they put in a lot of hours behind the scenes to make this happen," Allen said.

A few new merchants were added to this year's list of exhibitors, Allen said, including White Interiors, a home accessories and furniture store in Dawsonville, and Viola's Market, a merchant from St. Simon's Island that will offer live topiaries, gifts and jewelry.

"We're very excited. We've got 73 merchants from seven states," Allen said.

Allen said 15 getaway packages, an outdoor brick fireplace and an oil painting by Alice Paris are among the items that will be up for auction at tonight's party.

"People within the community have just been very generous," said Allen.

The preview party will include live and silent auctions, a dinner buffet featuring heavy hors d'oeuvres, a cash bar and live music.

"Philip Wilheit will be our auctioneer this year," Bagwell said.

"He does a great job with getting those that are attending, to really get their attention and get them involved in the auction."

Allen said the preview party gives early shoppers an advantage.

"It's really a great chance to shop, you know, before it really opens to the public," Allen said. "Those people really get the first chance to purchase."

"I love Marketplace, just because it's just such a unique... shopping experience and it just gets you geared up for the holidays."