Market Square shopkeepers find cold daunting

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Reagan West-Whitman told herself this, when she accepted the job of staffing the Wendell August metal crafts booth at the outdoor holiday market in Market Square, Downtown:

It would be cold. Very cold. But it would only be for 30 days.

"A month," she said. "I felt like I could do anything for a month."

Six days in, the 38-year-old Lawrenceville resident has cold feet.

She stood in her booth Friday, wearing a hat, a long coat, corduroy pants, thick snow boots, long underwear, thermals and a sweater. In her boots were toe warmers and in her coat pockets were hand warmers. Sometimes, she said, when music plays in Market Square, she dances along to stay warm. Other times, her husband, Bryan, sits with her and they pull their chairs together and curl up under a blanket.

The weather Friday, in the 30s and above the freezing mark, was warmer than it has been. But already there have been days when the temperature dipped into the teens. Once, she said, the hot chocolate she was sipping froze before she could finish it.

Yet her mantra remains the same.

"I just keep thinking: it's just one month," she said. "It's just one month. I can do anything for one month."

For the two dozen vendors that make up the second annual Peoples Gas Holiday Market, which opened last Saturday, the challenge this holiday season is staying warm.

They now have less than a month to go, as Black Friday marked the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season. Typically, it's a day that yields scenes of soon-to-be shoppers huddled in the cold, waiting to be allowed into the warmth and material promise of what lies within. The holiday market, an homage to a German tradition, is somewhat of an inverse situation.

Huddled inside their storefronts, the vendors, selling items ranging from Christmas ornaments to scarves to jewelry to glassware, are waiting in the cold for shoppers to emerge from inside their homes and offices to peruse what they have to offer.

In this Pittsburgh climate, it can be a chilly occupation. Each chalet has a tiny heater, but vendors interviewed Friday said they offer little relief, especially since the windows of the little shops are wide open. The market is open every day until Dec. 23, for seven, nine or 101/2 hours a day. It's the cold weather exposure equivalent of attending two to three late-November Steelers games back-to-back every day, for 30 days. A staying-warm strategy is vital.

"Layers is my key," said Pam Martorella, 59, of Dormont, who was manning a booth called The Glass Haus Friday morning. "Lots of layers. I have three pairs of socks on right now."

Linda Barnicott, 55, of Monroeville, a vendor who sells Pittsburgh-themed arts and gifts, agreed that layering is the best way to bear the weather. But the business the holiday season brings her -- and the good mood most of the shoppers bring with them -- makes the cold worth it, said Ms. Barnicott, who participated in the market's inaugural year.

"It was awesome having a storefront for the month," she said, so she signed up again for this year.

On Friday, she said she was wearing four layers of pants and four layers of tops. She also had a couple of pairs of socks on. She was happy to mark Black Friday, and indeed, a busy Market Square indicated the shopping season was underway.

But there is warmer weather in Ms. Barnicott's future. She and her husband are planning a trip to Florida once her holiday market duties are completed.

"It seemed like a good thing to do this year," she said.

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.

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