NEW YORK (AP) — On a recent night in early November, shoppers at the Bryant Park Christmas market in New York City were in the holiday spirit long before Black Friday. The smell of pine wafted from the candle vendors’ stalls, people bought gingerbread cookies and hot apple cider, and ice skaters spun in a figure eight around the rink in the center of the market.
After a two-year pandemic vacation when people spent more dollars online, shoppers are back in stores and at Christmas markets. Small businesses say it’s starting to feel a lot like Christmas, both emotionally and financially.
“There’s definitely been more activity than last year,” said Sallie Austin Gonzales, CEO of Beacon, New York-based soap company SallyeAnder. This is their second year at the Bryant Park Market, officially named Holiday Shops by Urbanspace at Bank of America Winter Village in Bryant Park.
“People are taking advantage of being part of society again and walking.”
Christmas markets have been popular in Germany and Austria, where they are called Christkindlmarkets, and in other parts of Europe for centuries. They have become more popular in the US in recent decades, springing up in Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco and many other cities. In New York, the Grand Central Holiday Market and the Union Square Holiday Market began in 1993.
Urbanspace now operates three holiday markets in New York: Bryant Park, Union Square and Columbus Circle. The pandemic put a damper on the festivities in 2020, when only a scaled-down Bryant Park opened. Last year, Bryant Park was open at full capacity, but Union Square was at 80% capacity and Columbus Circle was at 50%. This year, not only are all three markets at full capacity, but Urbanspace will add another in Brooklyn that opens on November 28. Vendors apply for pop-up spaces and pay weekly or monthly rent to Urbanspace.
“We’ve had more requests than ever before, which tells us that vendors are excited to be back in the popup game,” said Evan Shelton, Director of Popup Markets at Urbanspace. “I am very optimistic.”
So far, foot traffic is up slightly from last year as tourism continues to improve, Shelton said. While tourist numbers remain below 2019 levels, tourism trade group NYC & Company expects 56.4 million domestic and international visitors by the end of 2022, up 30% from a year ago. That bodes well for small businesses, as the holiday shopping season can account for 20% of annual sales.
For Austin Gonzales, 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, her charcoal lemongrass detox soap and a bottle of natural bug spray are popular items. Like most businesses, he faces higher costs for everything from olive oil to paper bags. He has raised the price of his soaps from $8 to $9.25.
“The Christmas stores do a great job for us,” he said. “We see thousands and thousands of customers and get tons of new tips, ideas, suggestions, and testimonials.”
For some small businesses, the markets are a welcome respite after a punishing couple of years. Elizabeth Ryan, owner and operator of Breezy Hill Orchard in Staatsburg, New York, said the initial outbreak of COVID-19 caused her revenue to drop 80% in 2020.
Ryan is a founding member of the Union Square Greenmarket and a longtime staple at Manhattan Christmas markets, where he sells cider, cider donuts, and gingerbread cookies. She said her orchard has mostly recovered, helped by a good apple crop this year. But the holiday markets give you a much-needed income boost.
“We love working for the Christmas markets, it has helped us a lot to overcome various and various problems,” he said.
Preparing for the Christmas markets is labor intensive, as many small businesses have to transport their produce from miles away and spend long hours manning their stalls. Ryan’s farm is 100 miles north of town and Ryan drives almost every day. But being on the market and seeing New York City recover from the pandemic is worth it.
“The reopening of the stores and the return of Christmas last year was very exuberant and joyous. I hope this year is the same,” she said.
While holiday market-goers may be feeling the effects of the high inflation rates of the past 40 years, Lisa Devo, owner of Soap & Paper Factory, a Nyack, New York-based manufacturer of candles and other scented products He said that buyers are still looking for an affordable product. treat or gift Devo, who has had a stand 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, for example, candles that were $28 now retail for $32.
Shoppers return each year for his “Roland Pine” product line, which includes candles and diffusers, which has a pine scent emanating from his booth. Devo calls the fragrance “the star of our company.”
“We’re feel-good stuff for under $50,” he said. “People will spend $30 on a candle. It’s not like spending $10,000 on a sofa or something. … I haven’t really seen much pushback.”
Most of the Soap & Paper Factory’s revenue comes from wholesale orders, but selling items at markets at retail prices provides a boost. “We look forward to a great year – we compare our numbers every year and we are off to a great start.”
She said crowds seem stronger than last year, though it still doesn’t feel quite back to pre-pandemic levels of “normalcy.” She feels that the fear of COVID-19 has lessened and she is happy to see fewer masks.
“So yeah, I think it’s good. He feels like things are sort of back on track.”