By Esmé von Hoffman
Ever wanted to buy a one-of-a-kind gift from a local artisan in New York? Well, thanks to the trans-continental, originally British company Urban Space Markets, you can.
Holidays are supposed to be a special part of the year. In New York, markets spring up during this time for consumers seeking gifts that differ from the usual chain-store offerings. What look to be casual local occurrences – often temporary clusters of tents – are frequently carefully selected groups of vendors set up by various corporations to bring local commerce to a neighborhood. Here is a rundown of some of the premier markets and how they came to be.
Since colonizing America, the British have had great influence on our country, and in the arena of contemporary holiday markets, they seem to hold similar sway. Over 17 years ago, Elton Scott, an American who worked for Urban Space Markets – which was responsible for famous British markets such as Camden Locks – approached Grand Central Station to found the Grand Central Holiday Fair. This fair would become the first of Urban Space Markets’ U.S. ventures.
Today, Grand Central Holiday Fair is run by Jones Lang LaSalle, a global real-estate services firm, on behalf of the MTA, but it operates under the original model set up by Urban Space Markets. It continues to sell local goods as well as contemporary, handmade, and eco-friendly items. For those who wish to escape the cold, it distinguishes itself by being an indoor market.
Since then, Urban Space Markets has sought to set up fairs in other neighborhoods. It created the Union Square Holiday Market 16 years ago, and it coordinates with the Union Square Partnership to help increase business in the area. Six years ago it started the Columbus Circle Holiday Market. To this day, Urban Space runs both and emphasizes selling local products. They are highly selective when it comes to vendors and use a word-of-mouth system to find new local artisans to participate. This year, both markets will have a special emphasis on food. The Union Square market will include city favorites such as Momofuku Milk Bar. The Columbus Circle market will have its own seating area and will feature cuisine from area establishments such as Crif Dogs and Fatty Crab. HSBC will sponsor complimentary wrapping.
The Holiday Gift Shops at Bryant Park caters to those who might wish to ice-skate as well as shop. Located in makeshift plexiglass structures, these shops surround Bryant Park’s free skating rink. Run by Upsilon Ventures – a project development, marketing, and production firm – these shops combine boutique items, snacks, and international merchandise.
The Holiday Shops at Saint Bart’s was started seven years ago by Gio Arts Promotions, an arm of Mardi Gras Festival Productions that organizes many New York Street fairs. Gio Arts approached St. Bartholomew’s Church about renting their outdoor plaza, which lies vacant in the winter. The shops at Saint Bart’s offer mainly international crafts, such as African art, as well as an array of tchotchkes and winter clothing. Part of the proceeds goes to the church that hosts the fair.
Around New York City, you will also find many local vendors who set up their wares without formal organization. These artists and street vendors often cannot afford to rent a booth at one of the established fairs, but they still help bring vital life and local goods to the streets during holiday season. You may, in fact, find a bargain with them since they have no overhead. These artisans often congregate in Union Square, around Columbus Circle, near the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on West Broadway in Soho, and in Battery Park.
As an alternative to gift shopping, Winter’s Eve on Lincoln Square provides an abundance of free local and world-class entertainment as well as food from local haute-cuisine for only one to five dollars a plate. This holiday market was founded in 2000 by Monica Blum, the president of the Lincoln Center Business Improvement District (BID), after she attended the tree-lighting ritual at Lincoln Center and realized that attendees had nothing to do afterwards. Now Lincoln Center BID, a group of local business owners, government officials, and residents, partners with the multinational Time Warner Inc. and other sponsors to present the largest holiday celebration in New York. Although most of the festival takes place on the street, concerts occupy a variety of indoor venues, such as the American Folk Art Museum. The Lincoln Center BID hopes to lure newcomers and make unusual use of these spaces, thus promoting the neighborhood’s attractions. The festival has hired 20 to 25 musical acts this year, including the local LaGuardia Show Choir, the New York-based Alice Farley Dance Theater, and the world-renowned jazz singer John Pizzarelli. Admission is free, but the festival recommends bringing canned food items to donate to City Harvest, an organization to feed the metropolis’s hungry.
The Grand Central Holiday Fair
Monday, Nov. 15 thru Thursday, Dec. 24
Fair hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday – Saturday;
11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday
Vanderbilt Hall and Bridge; Grand Central Terminal
Lexington Ave. at 42nd Street
Winter’s Eve at Lincoln Square
Monday, Nov. 29 from 5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
On Broadway, from the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle to 68th Street
Union Square Holiday Market
Nov. 19 thru Dec. 24
Open every day from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
(Closed Thanksgiving Day)
South end of Union Square, at West 14th Street.
Columbus Circle Market
Dec. 1 thru Dec. 24
Open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
SW entrance to Central Park, overlooking Columbus Circle
Holiday Gift Shops at St. Bartholomew’s
Nov. 15 thru Dec. 24
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
On Park Ave. at 50th St.
The Holiday Shops at Bryant Park
Nov. 5, 2010 to Jan. 2, 2011
Monday–Friday: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Between 40th and 42nd Streets & Fifth and Sixth Aves.