Over the past two holiday seasons, we’ve found creative ways to celebrate in spite of smaller gatherings and travel restrictions, whether ordering gifts (and bulk packages of TP for good measure) from our couches or belting carols over Zoom and out our windows. It’s made for some interesting new traditions – but this year there’s a palpable optimism that has many of us craving the fellowship December is all about. As we hit the city’s favorite shopping spots, it’s hard not to notice the return of festive cheer.
The holiday spirit certainly permeates downtown, especially on December Saturdays. “This year, we knew it would be important to do everything we could to amplify what our businesses are already doing that is great,” says Joanna Levitt, director of marketing for the merchants’ association InDowncity, discussing this season’s expanded Celebrate Downcity holiday festival. Because they weren’t able to host any programming last year due to COVID, the return of this event – which used to be a single day of festivities to kick off the season – will be extra special.
“Over the summer we worked with a group called Soulita, who turned out to be very great partners and very like-minded in the fact that they’re a brand themselves. Like us, they’re very interested in gathering the community around small business and makers, particularly local makers,” says Levitt. Using InDowncity’s event planning experience and connections with brick-and-mortar retailers and Soulita’s network of makers, Saturdays at Grant’s Block and Westminster Street (the section between Eddy and Union streets) will be transformed with holiday greenery, food trucks, live music, and more than 20 vendors selling everything from candles and cosmetics to vintage clothing and art.
“Our vision for all marketplaces we host is to create a level playing field for all businesses participating,” explains Lexus Fernandez, who co-owns Soulita, an Olneyville-based skincare brand, with Evan Delpeche. “We do this by supplying resources for all vendors, from tents to Square cards. We give the community a unique, local business list to support. From marketplaces to community clean-ups, we plan on giving back to this community before giving out to the world.”
Celebrate Downcity is far from the only holiday market drawing folks away from cyber shopping and into the chilly air to support businesses and makers in their neighborhoods. This year, the Buy Local RI initiative is focusing their outreach around small, under-the-radar markets – the stuff of holiday memories. “One of the things for me, when I was a kid, was going to holiday markets and bazaars and church festivals, street parties and things like that,” says Kristen Adamo, president and CEO of Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. “That’s going to be the theme of Buy Local.”
While they’ll also be promoting the big-ticket Christmas lightings and events that may be more well-known, “we want to make sure we represent all of the cities and all of the communities,” Adamo emphasizes, by translating outreach efforts into Spanish, for instance, and “another big push for us is going to be helping downtown.”
Meanwhile, on the Westminster strip across I-95, Bloom Collective is bringing the cheer by curating a winter pop-up experience. West End Wonderland is a shopping extravaganza that brings together gifts by local creatives in a single space. Along with placing a variety of goods (think stained glass, specialty apothecary, handmade textiles, and jewelry) at visitors’ fingertips, “we also hope that this will be helpful for folks running micro-businesses to reach new customers,” owners Savannah Barkley and Heather Wolfenden explain. “Since Bloom Collective handles staffing/merchandising, etc., this allows [the micro-businesses] to more widely share their product and be in more than one place at once.”
Even as this winter may feel like a reemergence for many, brick-and-mortar retailers and micro-businesses continue navigating an ever-changing landscape. “The fatigue is real,” Levitt notes. In her work as both the director of commercial leasing for Cornish Associates focusing on the first-floor, commercial activity of their properties and marketing for InDowncity, she’s seen retailers and restaurateurs who kept their doors open through COVID now “having to put extra time and thought into the unknown and take some leaps of faith” approaching the holidays.
“They’re having to be really nimble, and obviously that requires a lot more time and planning than it did prior,” Levitt continues. “A lot of small businesses, particularly retail, are buying a quarter or two quarters ahead and then with some of these shipping and supply chain delays, they’ve had to think even further ahead.” But unlike last year, one thing is for certain: there will be customers.
Levitt anticipates a bustling street of shoppers on Celebrate Downcity Saturdays – whether laden with shopping bags or enjoying a beer and snacks beneath the iconic sparkling lights. With a December 4 stroll falling on the same day as the final WaterFire of the season and the City Hall and Providence Rink tree lightings drawing folks from near and far, the mood is sure to be festive, and Levitt jokingly promises, “It’s not gonna snow on Saturdays in December” – though even if there are flurries, the event will still go on. For retailers, she explains, “This holiday hopefully will be one of the first times they’ll feel the return of all of that hard work.”
Along with brick-and-mortars Craftland, Queen of Hearts and Modern Love, Symposium Books and Records, The Vault Collective, Civil, Homestyle, and Eno Fine Wines participating in Celebrate Downcity, watch for these vendors (confirmed at press date) popping up at Grant’s Block Saturdays in December.
Situated The Brand, LLC
The Greek Gardener
ARTS & GIFTS
The Black Leaf Tea & Culture Shop
The Heal Room
Hope Street Candle Co.
The Kind Shop Owner
Knots of Art LLC
Tea to a Flame
Through December 19
Providence Flea Holiday Markets: The Providence Flea is indoors at Farm Fresh RI every Friday evening and Sunday for their annual holiday markets featuring hand-picked, homemade, handcrafted, and small-batch items. ProvidenceFlea.com
Through December 23
Little Pictures Show & Sale: A tradition since 1904, this Providence Art Club sale is one of the largest and longest running shows of its kind, featuring over 600 works of art under 16 inches and $300, perfect for the art lover on your list. ProvidenceArtClub.org
West End Wonderland: Browse a winter wonderland chock full of handmade and vintage products for a one-of-a-kind one-stop gift shop, curated by Bloom Collective and celebrating local makers and artisans. WeAreBloomCollective.com
Through December 31
Craftland Holiday Extravaganza: Take the sense of whimsy Craftland instills in every curio on display, add a healthy dose of holiday cheer, and you get this shopping extravaganza.
December 2-5, 10-12
The Foundry Show: The Foundry Artist Association’s annual artist-run show returns in person to the Pawtucket Armory with high-quality goods in all genres. Admission is a non-perishable food donation.
December 4, 11, & 18
Celebrate Downcity 2021: InDowncity and Soulita present a series of downtown shopping events bringing together local businesses, musicians, artists, and food vendors.
Fine Furnishings Winter Market: Visit the WaterFire Arts Center to peruse 100 vendors sure to inspire gift ideas for everyone on your list (even yourself!).
Holiday Stroll: Get your holiday shopping in by strolling the festive Wayland Square during this annual event, which in the past drew carolers, pop-ups, luminaries, and more.
LGBTQQIA+ Artisan Marketplace: Haus of Codec hosts a variety of local artisans and vendors at the Cranston Street Armory.
Providence Artisans Holiday Show: Over 70 local artists will have their wares on display at the WaterFire Arts Center, from handmade paintings and ceramics to jewelry, woodwork, and more, plus food trucks.
Just In Time Art Sale!: Hey procrastinators, this one’s for you. Locally made gifts for last-minute shoppers. Roger Williams Park Botanical Center,
Through January 2:
A Christmas Carol
The Lindsey Stirling
Cirque Dreams Holidaze
The Edwards Twins – Holidays with the Stars
Rudolph The Red-Nosed
Reindeer – The Musical
Home for the Holidays
Black Violin – Give Thanks Tour
Bumper Cars and Ice Skating: Glide around the BankNewport City Center Rink beneath the sparkling Christmas tree lights.
Through January 2
Holiday Lights Spectacular: A new festive walk-through experience at Roger Williams Park Zoo, thousands of dazzling lights in larger-than-life luminous displays are sure you get you in the spirit.
City of Providence Annual Tree Lighting: See the grand tree in front of City Hall illuminated, with help from members of the Trinity Repertory Company, followed by the lighting of the BankNewport City Center tree and a show featuring performances by nationally ranked skaters.
WaterFire Celebrates the Holidays: A basin lighting will illuminate Waterplace Park for the final WaterFire of the year, ringing in the holiday season in the city. WaterFire.org
Lippitt Outdoor Holiday Photo Opp: Don your merriest apparel and visit the Lippitt House Museum for a chance to have your family or friend group of up to six professionally photographed for your seasonal greetings.
Calligraphy & Ornament Lettering: An evening at Reiners in the Graduate Providence gets a festive twist with calligraphy and fancy ornament lettering over cocktails.
7th Annual Community Tamalada: At La Galería del Pueblo, Rhode Island Latino Arts hosts a gathering of tamale making and family reading of the beloved Mexican children’s Christmas story, Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto. Register online.
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