The 25-year history of the Union Square Holiday Market

November 16, 2018

Photo via Flickr cc

Today, flea markets, pop-up shops, and food halls are an everyday part of city life, but 25 years ago, this wasn’t the case. In 1993, after working for several years at Urban Space Management in the UK, Eldon Scott arrived in NYC with the goal of opening a holiday market similar to those he’d worked on developing in London. He quickly set up the Grand Central Holiday Fair and shortly thereafter the Union Square Holiday Market. Modeled loosely on Christkindlmarkts, traditional holiday street markets held during advent that began in Germany, the Union Square market is now a holiday tradition for New Yorkers and out-of-towners alike, with 150+ vendors.

The Bryant Park Holiday Market set up around the ice skating rink, via Flickr cc

Scott is now the president of Urbanspace, which, in addition to Grand Central and Union Square, runs holiday markets at Columbus Circle and Bryant Park, as well as two year-round and four seasonal food markets.

When he started planning the Union Square Holiday Market he made of point of not only selecting the vendors individually but making sure there would be varied offerings as opposed to the more generic street fairs that most New Yorkers were then familiar with. In fact, still to this date, applicants are personally interviewed and asked to provide samples of their merchandise. Each year about a third of those selected are newcomers, while others have been there since the very beginning, and some come from as far as Bali and Lebanon.

This is also where he introduced the now-iconic wooden vendor booths, which he refers to as “little buildings” that function within the markets’ roles as “acts of urban planning.” Each booth is 60 square feet–10′ long X 6′–and is rigged with electricity to keep lights and space heaters running, all of which is powered by a huge biodiesel generator at the east side of Union Square. Vendors have the option of renting half or double sizes, and as of 2016, a full-size booth was renting for nearly $15,000 for a four-week season.

The German Delights booth, via Flickr cc

Today, the Union Square Holiday Market has 150+ vendors, including a “Little Brooklyn” and Urbanspace Provisions. And in a nod to the Christkindlmarkt inspiration, every year there’s at least one booth selling Glühwein, a warm, mulled wine spiced with cinnamon and sugar that is a staple at the German markets.

The Union Square Holiday Market opened yesterday and runs through December 24th. It’s open Monday-Friday from 11am to 8pm; Saturday from 10am to 8pm; and Sunday from 11am to 7pm. More information and a list of vendors can be found here >>

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