Bethlehem business leaders gathered Thursday afternoon to announce yet another addition to the city’s Christmas festival repertoire – a new open air market that will fill the Sun Inn courtyard with the sights and sounds of the holidays.
The Downtown Bethlehem Association is making no bones about the fact that the new Christmas City Village is meant to fill the anticipated void that comes with the departure of ArtsQuest’s , which next holiday season is moving across the river to the campus.
Lynn Logue, vice president of Bethlehem initiatives for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, said she was “concerned” that the Christmas market’s departure would be a blow to North Side tourism during the holidays.
That concern was apparently shared by many of the downtown merchants, who worked together over the past five weeks to organize a new event.
Mayor John Callahan, who was at the Sun Inn for a news conference to hail the new addition to Bethlehem Christmas celebration, said he could remember a time when the merchants were not so enthusiastic about Christkindlmarkt, when it first arrived under the Hill-to-Hill Bridge.
“They viewed it as competition for a limited amount of dollars,” Callahan said. Over time, they began to realize that the attraction brought more people to the downtown and made for a bigger pie for everyone to share.
“It’s funny how these things evolve,” the mayor said.
Samantha Schwartz, the downtown Bethlehem manager for the chamber, said the new festival is not meant to compete with Christkindlmarkt, but bring a different type of German Christmas tradition to the downtown, commonly known there as a Weinachstmarkt.
Unlike Christkindlmarkt, there will be no heated tent. Instead, the courtyard off of Main Street will be filled with 20 to 30, 8-foot by 8-foot wooden huts from which vendors will sell unique hand-crafted items, Schwartz said.
The DBA will be looking for local hobbyists or artisans who will be willing to vend in two-weekend segments at the market, which will be open during the weekends beginning on Black Friday through Christmas Eve.
The idea is to have unique hand-crafted gifts that can’t be found anywhere else, said Schwartz, adding that she already has an agreement with the wreath-maker from the to sell Christmas decorations.
“We want the person who has a hobby to say, ‘I can do that,’” Schwartz said.
Schwartz pointed out that the DBA has already enjoyed some success promoting the downtown through its event, which for the past several years has been staged daily through the month of December.
DBA also plans to bring in musicians and food vendors and to decorate the courtyard with lights and greens give it “the same spirit as European Christmas festivals,” according to the prepared news release.
Christmas City Village will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve. Admission will be free.