Small businesses and shoppers are returning to holiday markets | Update News

On a recent evening in early November, shoppers at New York’s Bryant Park Holiday Market were in festive mood long before Black Friday. The smell of pine wafted from the stalls of the candle vendors, people snatched up gingerbread and hot apple cider, and figure skaters circled the skating rink in the center of the market.

After two years of pandemic holidays in which people spent more dollars online, shoppers have become active again in stores and holiday markets. Small businesses say it’s starting to feel a lot like Christmas, both emotionally and financially.

“It was definitely more than last year,” said Sally Austin Gonzalez, CEO of SallyeAnder soap company based in Beacon, New York. This is her 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 society again and walking around.”

Christmas markets have been popular in Germany and Austria, where they are called Christkindlmarkets, and in other parts of Europe for centuries. Over the past few decades, they have become more popular in the US, appearing in Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco and many other cities. In New York City, the Grand Central Holiday Market and the Union Square Holiday Market opened in 1993.

Urbanspace currently operates three New York City holiday markets: Bryant Park, Union Square, and Columbus Circle. The pandemic put a damper on the celebrations in 2020, with only the small Bryant Park reopening. Bryant Park opened at full capacity last year, but Union Square was at 80% capacity and Columbus Circle at 50%. Not only are all three markets operating at full capacity this year, Urbanspace is adding another one in Brooklyn that opens on November 28th. Sellers apply for temporary space and pay Urbanspace weekly or monthly rent.

“We’ve received more applications than ever before, which tells us vendors are excited to be back in the pop-up game,” said Evan Shelton, director of pop-up markets at Urbanspace. “I’m very optimistic.”

So far, the number of pedestrians has increased slightly compared to last year, Shelton said, as tourism continues to improve. Although tourist numbers remain below 2019 levels, travel trade group NYC & Company expects 56.4 million domestic and international visitors by the end of 2022, up 30% from a year ago. 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 they like. So far this year, her detoxifying lemongrass and charcoal soap and her tube of natural insect repellant are hot items. Like most businesses, it faces higher costs for everything from olive oil to paper bags. She raised the price of her soap from $8 to $9.25.

“Holiday stores do a great job for us,” she said. “We see thousands and thousands of customers and get tons of new tips, ideas, suggestions and feedback.”

For some small businesses, markets are a welcome respite after years of hard work. Elizabeth Ryan, who owns and operates the Breezy Hill Orchard in Stutsburg, New York, said the initial emergence of COVID-19 caused her revenue to drop by 80% in 2020.

Ryan is a founding member of Union Square Green Market and has long been a staple in Manhattan’s holiday markets, where she sells cider, cider doughnuts, and gingerbread cookies. She said her orchard has mostly recovered thanks to a good apple harvest this year. But the holiday fairs give her a much-needed boost in revenue.

“We love working in the holiday markets, it helped us a lot to deal with various problems,” she said.

Preparing for holiday markets is labor-intensive because many small businesses have to haul their merchandise miles and spend long hours stocking their stalls. Ryan’s farm is 100 miles north of town and Ryan drives here almost every day. But being in the market and watching New York recover from the pandemic is worth it.

“The opening of stores and the return of Christmas last year was very bright and joyful. I hope it will be the same this year,” she said.

While holiday market goers may be feeling the effects of 40 years of high inflation, Lisa Deveaux, owner of Soap & Paper Factory, a Nyack, New York-based manufacturer of candles and other scented products, says shoppers are still looking for affordable prices. treat or gift. Devo, which has had a booth in Bryant Park for about seven years, has six or seven products under $25 and not many items over $50. She had to raise some prices, such as candles that cost $28 are now selling for $32.

Customers return every year for her “Roland Pine” line of products, including candles and diffusers that have a pine scent wafting from her stall. Deveaux calls the fragrance “the star of our company.”

“We feel good for less than $50,” she said. “People spend $30 on a candle. It’s not the same as spending $10,000 on a sofa or something like that. … I didn’t really see much resistance.”

Most of Soap & Paper Factory’s revenue comes from bulk orders, but selling items in markets at retail prices provides an extra boost. “We’re looking forward to a great year – we compare our numbers every year and we’re off to a great start.”

She said the crowds seem to be more resilient than last year, though they still haven’t quite returned to pre-pandemic levels of “normality”. She feels that the fear of COVID-19 has subsided and is glad to see fewer masks.

“So yeah, I think it’s good. It feels like everything is sort of going back to the way it was before.”

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