There’s something for everyone at the popular Downtown Holiday Market in Washington, DC.
Spreading holiday cheer
Every Christmas season for the past 14 years, small business owners from across the United States and overseas come to the heart of the nation’s capital to sell their crafts in a festive, village environment.
Visiting the market has become a fun annual tradition for locals and a nice surprise discovery for many out-of-town visitors who chance upon the two-block-long event with its neatly arranged rows of white tents.
They come to enjoy live music and exotic street food, but also to take advantage of the chance to find the perfect holiday gift…and meet the artisans who made the one-of-a-kind products for purchase.
A personal touch
“It’s a way to find authentic things that are handmade that have meaning beyond what you can find in a department store,” says Colorado resident Barbara Joseph, who’s in town to visit her family.
Her daughter, Jessica Hutzell, describes it as a more personal shopping experience, “because you’re talking maybe directly to the artist, or the person that made the beautiful piece of wood that you’re going to serve your cheese on.”
The wooden boards she’s describing come from Jeffrey Oh, who works with wood sourced from all corners of the U.S. in his DC area shop. There’s a photo in his booth of renowned Chef Jose Andres holding one of Oh’s signature boards, which he sells in a variety of wood grains, colors and textures.
Glass artist Ryan Eicher drew a small crowd as he carefully aimed an open flame at a small piece of glass he was shaping into a sphere.
“I’m doing flame working,” he explained as he rotated the object at the end of a glass rod. “I’m making a glass pendant with a torch.”
“For me, being able to be out here and meet people and have them appreciate what I do, means a lot,” he says. “And I think the fact that I’m out here actually blowing glass helps people gain an appreciation for what I do and to understand the work and the effort that goes into each piece. It can be hard to really understand that without seeing the process.”
“It’s also a good sales tactic!” he added with a smile.
Hector Zarate represents 17 native Peruvian artisans whose one-of-a-kind creations include ornaments, mirrors, and hand-woven alpaca clothing.
He says people enjoy meeting — or learning about — the people behind the products. “Anybody can shop online, anybody can go to a mall, but coming here makes it a very unique experience and a chance to buy something truly unique,” he said.
“I think the idea of engaging one-on-one with the artist, with the sources, with the people that represent the artist here is very important to them,” he added. “They feel connected, they feel like they’re supporting local businesses in a more direct way.”
Canadian visitor Kathryn was one of those people. After perusing the shelves at Zarate’s booth, she ended up buying a hand-woven scarf made of soft wool from a baby alpaca.
She excitedly lifted the new purchase from her shopping bag and explained how happy she was to have bought it. “I’d only gotten five or six stalls in, and here I am, buying something!”
Home-grown goodies and hoodies
Like-minded customers also enjoyed the experience of browsing through the covered booths while being able to talk with vendors about their handicrafts.
One customer found it hard to choose a scent among so many choices at a specialty soap shop. Another shopper, a soon-to-be-grandmother, couldn’t decide which onesie to buy for her unborn granddaughter. So she bought all three varieties. And a group of young women seemed to enjoy debating the definition of the perfect pair of silver earrings.
And that is a win-win experience for vendors and customers alike, says event co-founder and organizer Michael Berman.
“We do something a little bit different here where we really focus on the entrepreneurs as small-businesses, the artisans, the creators of their own products. So we really have unique items and unique gifts that you can’t find anywhere else. So in addition to the customer experiencing talking to the maker that you can’t do at a mall, it’s also this great interactive, festive atmosphere outside and is joyful and is fun and there’s something for everybody.”
For some vendors, this year’s market also provided an opportunity to sell items that reflected the mood of the country.
Maryland-based Chouquette Chocolates, for example, developed a new line of artisan chocolates called “Phenomenal Women,” in honor of women “who have inspired us,” said Sue Cassidy, director of sales at the company.
One of the portraits molded in chocolate is of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “Our stores demanded that [her chocolates] have their own box, so she now has her own box and we can’t keep them in stock,” she said. “They are just selling like crazy!”
During its 31-day run, organizers expect more than 10,000 people will visit the market every day before it closes on December 23.
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