There's financial reasons to do it, obviously, but for us consumers, it's another piece of what we've been missing for almost a year now. Starting with the annual Downtown Kalamazoo Chili Cook-off and followed by the Downtown Kalamazoo Restaurant Week, both are set to happen in the next few weeks.

First things first, the Downtown Kalamazoo Chili Cook-Off is Saturday, February 27th. The 16th annual has been re-imagined as an outdoor event, with tents set up on the south Kalamazoo Mall. If you're into collectibles, there will be commemorative tasting spoons on sale for just $5. And there contest element will be handled via text. While your wandering, tasting chili, text “CHILI” to 59925 and rate the chili. (Winners will be announced after all the chili is gone, the final burps are made, and votes have been counted.

Then, beginning on the first weekend of March, it's Downtown Kalamazoo Restaurant Week. (March 5th - March 14th) It's a chance for downtown eateries to strut their stuff, but especially this year, maybe generate some needed business. Restaurants will be offering both dine-in and takeout options this year, featuring menus at price points of $10, $25, and/or $35. Also returning this year is a $49 Family Meal option available for dine-in or takeout.

Another element will the cleverly named March Mule Madness cocktail competition. You can purchase a featured cocktail and vote for their favorite at

Anecdotally, judging by how many folks are at restaurants and drinking establishments, there is a pent up demand for just getting out and out of the house and away from the couch and Netflix. This is a fun way to do just that.

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