By Sabina Mollot
The Union Square Holiday Market, which, every year, takes over the south end of Union Square Park for the five weeks leading up to Christmas, has now been around for over two decades.
But UrbanSpace, the company behind the long-running event, has made some changes this year, including putting in two stages for performances, an area for children’s activities, and a new section called Urban Provisions for packaged food items. There’s also been an expansion to a recently introduced section called Little Brooklyn, with many additional booths run by craftspeople and merchants from that borough. Aesthetic changes include more lighting and tree branches fashioned into archways and logs placed here and there to give the market a more woodsy feel.
Taking a T&V reporter on a stroll through the market earlier this week to explore some of the new additions was Mick Joseph. Joseph, a resident of Stuyvesant Town, is a market veteran, having operated a booth for DezignMind, the company she runs with husband Claus Ronnex-Printz for the past 14 years.
For that company, the couple works with families in different countries, in particular Bali and Thailand, to produce items Joseph designs, from wooden percussion animals that make surprisingly accurate noises when brushed with a baton or used as a whistle to fragrant clove boxes and ornaments to decorative masks.
Their booth is located near the park’s George Washington monument, which, as Joseph helpfully pointed out, is now an open area, near some food vendors with a few tables at a heating station. Previously, the spot by the statue was occupied by more booths.
“If people come here, they’re going to have a good time, and there’s a lot more for foodies,” Joseph said. “It used to be just crepes and waffles.” She gestured to one of her new favorite stops, a macaroni and cheese booth. “I have the goat cheese and rosemary mac and cheese,” she said.
Not far from the food vendors, is Urban Provisions. “Food is like the new trend for gift giving,” Joseph said, as she breezed past vendors including Bee Raw (honey), Nuts & Nuts, Izzy & Tallulah (caramels and fudge) and Fire Cider.
For those looking for specific booths or sections, there’s a handy large map posted on the Vintage Box booth, which is on the 14th Street side of the market across from Forever 21.
Joseph said she hopes the new additions will attract shoppers who’ve shifted to buying online. But of course, with the market now home to a whopping 150 booths, shoppers have certainly not abandoned shopping in person, either. In fact, Joseph noted, some savvy customers will make a point of doing their shopping when the weather is bad to avoid crowds.
“They have our complete attention,” she said.
But on Monday afternoon, customers were plentiful, so Joseph had to end the tour somewhere in Little Brooklyn. Read on for a list of gifts we found for kids and foodies, as well as unique jewelry finds and New York-centric items.
At DezignMind, popular items include the sound animals, with the croaking frogs and hooing owls being the top sellers. Percussion animals are mostly priced at $9 and $12, and have been such a hit that this year, DezignMind launched a line of wooden dinosaurs. Larger than the other animals, they’re priced at $25. Interestingly, their sounds are somewhat high pitched rather than the expected rumbling growls. But, as Joseph noted, there’s no proof they didn’t actually sound that way.
The animals have been a hit with kids as well as adults looking to get the attention of kids like therapists and teachers. Other items that have been going home with customers of different ages are painted wooden animals that sit on swings dangling from a bouncy cord ($20) and pencils with wooden dolls at the ends that have dangly arms and legs ($4).
Anyone interested in dinosaurs might enjoy putting together the 3-D dinosaur models available at Boneyard Pets. The dinos come flat in baggies and are put together like a puzzle. Depending on the kind of plastic they’re made out of prices range from ($35-$85 for Komatex to $135-$175 mainly for the more durable, higher density HDPE). Popular dinosaurs this year include pterodactyl and velociraptor ($35) and the $175 stegasaurus.
A market stop since the first year is Kip Kids, where Greenwich Village artist Kip Cosson offers his range of books with stories of New York City places, people and things (look for lots of firetrucks and taxis) at $18.50. There are also accompanying brightly colored t-shirts ($24-$26).
New York inspired gifts for locals and tourists
For the first time, the Parks Department of New York City is a vendor at the market, selling items guaranteed to impress the history buffs in your life as well as anyone who enjoys going to parks. Items include etched renderings by urban planners as well as other unique images found in the department’s archives.
“Some of it came to pass; some of it never happened,” said sales rep Tara McIntosh of a rendering of a highway running over Washington Square Park ($25), a plan fought successfully by the community.
Other items include 5×7 inch photos of city parks from the 1930s to the 1960s ($10), plush squirrels with NYC Parks Department logo capes ($15) and onesies with the same logo ($10).
For dog lovers, artist Megu Fukuda of Pinky Pilots offers prints made from her original collages of different types of dogs made entirely out of subway maps. Many of the prints are $45 (9×11 inches or 11×9) with just a few of the choices being dachshund, beagle, corgi, pug and jack russell.
Transit junkies might enjoy seeing their subway line (such as L, 6 and R) made into a wooden magnet with the image of the train engraved in by laser cutter. Those are $10 each at the Williamsburg-based Laser Eye & Noda Design Studio. Woods used in the company’s products are rose, cherry and Brazilian.
At Alyxia Leaf, unique necklaces and earring sets are fashioned out of leaves, butterfly wings or seahorses which are then covered in copper, sterling silver or gold vermeil. Prices for sets start in the $40s for copper sets, which, with the leaf pieces allow some of the natural green color to show for a more antique look. The pieces, company rep Howard Lee said are both durable and lightweight.
At Brooklyn Charm, there were numerous pendant necklaces, many priced under $20, that included crystal pendants as well as bullets and charms with uplifting messages such as “F*** Love” as well as monacles of varying size ($12-$20).
Market mainstay No Chewing Allowed, a French company, has steadily stuck to what it’s good at, making mouth-watering truffle chocolates sold in decorative tins ($22).
At The Filling Station, which sells flavored oils and vinegars, a big draw is actually the selection of salts, many of which come from the Pacific Ocean. Popular ones are spicy curry ($6), espresso ($6), truffle ($12) and Himalayan Pink ($6) for two ounce jars.
For years, the Unemployed Philosophers Guild has had something guaranteed to delight — or provoke — both Democrats and Republicans with its selection of political products. There are puppets that include presidents of the past (Lincoln, Washington) and the present (Obama) as well as other historical figures like Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol ($20).
Those looking for stocking stuffers might be interested in a box of Obama disappoint-mints ($3 or four for $10).
Also popular though not political are the booth’s Freudian slippers ($24) and new this year is a range of mugs and other items featuring DC comic characters.