New York – On a recent evening in early November, shoppers at New York City’s Bryant Park Holiday Market were getting in the holiday spirit well in advance of Black Friday. The scent of pine wafts from the candle vendors’ stalls, people drink gingerbread cookies and hot cider and ice skaters around the skating rink in the center of the market.
After two years of pandemic holidays when people spent more dollars online, shoppers are back in force at department stores and holiday markets. Small businesses say it’s starting to feel a lot like Christmas, both emotionally and financially.
“It’s definitely been busier than last year,” said Sally Austin Gonzalez, CEO of soap company SallyeAnder based in Beacon, New York. This is its second year at the Bryant Park Market – officially called Holiday Shops by Urbanspace at the Bank of America Winter Village in Bryant Park.
“People are taking advantage of being part of the community again and getting around.”
Christmas markets have been popular in Germany and Austria, where they are called Christkindlmarkets, and other parts of Europe for centuries. It has become more popular in the United States over the past few decades, popping up in Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, and many other cities. In New York, the Grand Central and Union Square holiday market started in 1993.
Urbanspace now operates three New York holiday markets: Bryant Park, Union Square, and Columbus Circle. The pandemic hampered festivities in 2020, when Bryant Park opened. Last year, Bryant Park opened at full capacity, but Union Square was at 80% capacity and Columbus Circle at 50%. This year, not only are all three markets at full capacity, but Urbanspace is adding another market in Brooklyn that opens November 28th. Sellers apply for pop-up spaces and pay Urbanspace weekly or monthly rent.
“We’re getting more orders than ever before, and that tells us sellers are excited to get back in the pop-up game,” said Evan Shelton, Director of Pop-Up Markets at Urbanspace. “I am very optimistic.”
So far, foot traffic is up slightly from last year, Shelton said, as tourism continues to improve. While the number of tourists is still below 2019 levels, tourism trade group NYC & Company expects 56.4 million domestic and international visitors by the end of 2022, up 30% from last year. This bodes well for small businesses as the holiday shopping season can account for 20% of annual sales.
For Austin Gonzalez, CEO of SallyeAnder in Beacon, New York, the Bryant Park Market is a way to meet new customers and see what resonates with them. So far this year, a lemongrass and charcoal detoxifying soap and a tub of natural insect repellents are popular items. Like most companies, it faces higher costs for everything from olive oil to paper bags. She has increased the price of her soap from $8 to $9.25.
“Holiday stores do a great job for us. We see thousands and thousands of customers, and we get lots of new tips, ideas, suggestions and testimonials,” she said.
For some small businesses, the markets are a welcome reprieve after a few years of punishment. Elizabeth Ryan, who owns and operates Breezy Hill Orchard in Statesburg, New York, said the initial outbreak of COVID-19 sent its revenue down 80% in 2020.
Ryan is a founding member of the Union Square Greenmarket and a longtime staple at Manhattan’s holiday markets, selling cider donuts, cider, and gingerbread cookies. She said her orchard has basically recovered with the help of a good apple harvest this year. But the holiday markets are giving them a much-needed revenue boost.
“We love working on holiday markets, it’s helped us a lot with various and varied problems,” she said.
Preparing for holiday markets is labor intensive, because many small businesses have to haul their goods from miles away and spend many hours working their stalls. Ryan’s ranch is 100 miles north of town and Ryan drives almost every day. But being in the market and watching New York City recover from the pandemic is worth it.
“The reopening of the shops and the return of Christmas last year was full of exuberance and joy. I hope this year it will be the same,” she said.
While holiday market goers may be feeling the pinch of 40-year-old inflation, Lisa Deveaux, owner of Soap & Paper Factory, the New York maker of Nyack, a maker of candles and other scented products, said shoppers are still looking for affordable prices. treat or gift. Devo, who’s had a booth in Bryant Park for about seven years, has six or seven products under $25 and not many items over $50. It had to raise some prices, for example candles that used to be $28 now retail for $32.
Shoppers return annually for the “Roland Pine” line of products including candles and diffusers, which have the scent of pine wafting from their booth. Devo calls the fragrance “the star of our company.”
“We feel great for less than $50,” she said. People will spend $30 for a candle. It’s not like spending $10,000 on a sofa or something. … I haven’t really seen much of a draw back.”
Most of the Soap & Paper Factory’s revenue comes from wholesale orders, but selling items in markets at retail prices provides a boost. “We wish you a great year – we compare our numbers every year and get off to a great start.”
She said the crowds appear to be stronger than last year, though it still doesn’t feel like a return to “normal” pre-pandemic levels. She felt the fear of COVID-19 has subsided and is happy to see fewer masks.
“So yeah, I think it’s good. It feels like things are a bit like getting back on track.”
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