AUBURN – It may only be fall, but the people of Auburn already seem to be in the holiday mood.
When the city announced on Wednesday that it would organize a downtown shopping district “Christmas Village” this holiday season, officials saw an overwhelming response from the public. The city’s social media pages were inundated with comments.
Less than a day after the announcement, city officials had already received 73 applications from vendors. As of Thursday, the only Facebook post promoting the event had been shared more than 650 times.
The idea for the Christmas market is based on the traditional European open-air Christmas markets, where vendors sell a variety of goods for Christmas gifts, as well as food and drink. The markets are popular in larger cities like Philadelphia and New York, but Mayor Jason Levesque said he and Liz Allen, the city’s director of communications and community engagement, had been dreaming up the idea for several years.
“It’s clear that people want that,” he said on Thursday. “It was an amazing reaction.”
Levesque said staff discussed the idea for the city’s 150th anniversary in 2019, but it ultimately didn’t move forward. In the years that followed, COVID-19 took over. He said now is “the right time”.
“We’re so excited for this to finally come together,” Allen said. “We’ve had this dream, this concept, for about four years now and to see it develop – and to see the excitement of the community after just one day of promotion – makes it even more exciting.”
The market opens on Saturday, December 3 as part of Auburn’s annual Tree Lights Festival Plaza and takes place every week on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until Christmas.
The Facebook post described it as “little ‘pop-up shops’ nestled around the Christmas tree. Think of: cocoa and coffee, unique gifts, wreaths, Christmas music and more.”
The great public interest has already prompted the organizers to reconsider some details. Not knowing what to expect, the city originally wanted to require vendors to register for all three weekends. However, Levesque said this is likely to change due to the number of vendors interested in a single weekend. He said it will allow for a greater choice of vendors from week to week, enticing shoppers to return multiple times.
Work is underway on the infrastructure for the village, complete with several bespoke buildings. In June, the City Council allocated $200,000 from its American Rescue Plan Act allocation for modular event spaces and kayak rentals.
When asked Thursday, Levesque said the city had purchased a modular space known as an OpBox, which will be used for a drinks vendor at the Christmas market. Some of the money was also provided for at least six 8-by-10-foot buildings for the Christmas Village. The city could buy more due to demand, but Levesque said the shed-like wooden buildings will be decorated and powered.
He said they can be reused for the annual Auburn New Year’s event as well as farmers’ markets.
The Christmas Village idea, he said, is part of the city’s goals to make downtown Auburn “a southern Maine destination.”
“It’s a way to support downtown businesses, give entrepreneurs a place, and bring back community pride, and people are already loving it,” he said.
For more information or those interested in applying, visit: www.goauburn.me/christmas-village.
According to the website, there are no fees for participants, but selected participants must agree to open during the designated times.
Among the more than 140 comments on the post, mostly praising the city for adopting it, was a simple comment from Linda Provencher.
“It’s about time,” she said.
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