Market Square transforms into holiday shoppers' hub

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Michael Knoop figures a steady influx of people moving Downtown means that many of them will want to decorate their apartments for the holiday season.

So he and partner Art DeMeo set up the Nice Tree shop in Market Square to sell traditional live trees, wreaths and garlands as part of the second annual Peoples Gas Holiday Market.

The market, which opened Saturday morning for a month-long run leading up to Christmas, has more than doubled its space in the square this year and has grown from 15 merchants last year to 23 full-time merchants and six others that will rotate in and out over the next four weeks. Their wares range from holiday ornaments to handmade jewelry, hand-blown glass, wooden toys, artwork, honey, candles, sweaters, scarves and fashion accessories. A couple of vendors also offer food including strudels, bratwurst and pastries.

The market -- organized by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and sponsored by Peoples Gas and the Colcom and Laurel foundations -- is inspired by the holiday markets known as "Christkindlmarkts" that are held during Advent in German towns. Starting in the late Middle Ages, the markets were set up in central plazas and goods were sold from stalls after a Christmas angel brought the season to each village, said Lee Herum, retail operations manager for Kathe Wohlfahrt of America. The German-based company joined the local Holiday Market this year and is selling decorations including its Wintertide Yuletide collection in a 1,500-square-foot enclosed tent.

Other new market retailers include the Pittsburgh Irish Festival Celtic Gift Shop; Himalaya Home, which has hand-crafted Nepali items including cashmere and silk; and Wendell August Forge of Grove City, which is selling hand-hammered metal gifts and ornaments.

The expansion of this year's event was the result of a $150,000 grant from the Allegheny County Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund and an undisclosed amount of funding from the Colcom Foundation, said Jeremy Waldrup, president of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

Besides more space and vendors, the market launched a week earlier this year in order to take advantage of the momentum from Friday's Light Up Night activities and to lure shoppers who may opt for a destination other than the malls on Black Friday, the frenzied consumer event that falls on the day after Thanksgiving.

After Disney Network star Calum Worthy helped kick off the opening day festivities Saturday, Santa Claus arrived to take up residence for the month. For a donation of $5 that benefits the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, visitors can have their photo taken with Santa.

At the Nice Tree stand, Mr. Knoop and Mr. DeMeo and their wives, Katy McKee and Jennifer DeMeo, were offering fresh, full-size Christmas trees as well as potted hollys, spruces and boxwoods.

Their decorated wreaths included balsam fir, boxwood, white pine and an Advent wreath made of Juniper cuttings.

If there is sufficient demand, Mr. Knoop said he will offer tree delivery to Downtown customers and possibly those who live elsewhere.

The market runs daily through Dec. 23 except for Thanksgiving Day, when it will be closed.

Joyce Gannon: or 412-263-1580.

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