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Christmas in Niagara Falls, USA

28 Nov

The Niagara Falls Holiday Market is a phenomenal idea. Take a largely abandoned, gritty street not far from a natural wonder, invite locally-owned businesses and artisans like 464 Gallery, Sarah Walley, Delish, Zillycakes, Tony Walker, and others to set up in little sheds along the street, add a festive atmosphere, some concerts, a skating rink – and voila, a European-style Christkindlmarkt.

It has huge potential to help reinvigorate a dead downtown, to bring people to the New York side of the Falls for something that isn’t casino or waterfall-related, and to start a great tradition. I really wanted our visit to this market to be awesome. It didn’t quite hit that mark, but it was fun enough.

The market was officially opened on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The reviews on its Facebook page were unflattering – people were disappointed. Many vendors hadn’t set up yet. Some were completely absent.

We went on Saturday right at 11am when the market opened for buy local day. I’m hopeful that this event gets its act together sooner rather than later. Tony Walker was nowhere to be found. Arrowhead Winery and other local vendors we were looking forward to checking out were absent or closed. 464 Gallery had a great tent-full of locally-produced arts and crafts, and we were honored to meet Sarah Walley herself, who had a table set up to sell her famous French macarons. But Tony Walker? There was no evidence of it anywhere. Biscoff Gourmet was shuttered. I didn’t see Menne Nursery. andBuffalo was still under construction. I didn’t see the Sabres store, either. I saw no evidence of DiCamillo’s at that hour. At least two cabins were empty and without signs.

It’s always difficult to set up a new event – especially one as ambitious as the Niagara Holiday Market. It’s also seductive to make excuses such as “well, at least someone’s doing something positive in the Falls”.   And it is.

But if I was one of the merchants who was able to get it together to be up and running on November 25th, I’d be a bit disappointed that others (especially some marquee names) weren’t. We traveled out of our way to enjoy a stroll and do some shopping in a place where neither really happens, ordinarily.  It was surprisingly empty and devoid of holiday cheer.  Perhaps it would make more sense to be less ambitious in terms of time, and limit it to the three December weeks leading up to Christmas. Maybe the organizers need to crack down on late and lackadaisical vendors.  When an event has so much promise, do it right.  I want the market to work – to thrive and to become a tradition, so hopefully its organizers will learn from their mistakes.

At least one published report indicates that the market costs $900,000 to put on, and that half of that money comes from city and state government. All the more reason why this should be professionally organized and done well.

On another note, the former Oxy Headquarters building known as the “flashcube” has been “saved” by a local developer but now resembles the food court of a dead mall. One gets the sense that it’s taking up loads of super-valuable parking spots. Neither its exterior nor interior are inviting, and it joins its neighbor the former Rainbow Centre as a past-its-prime eyesore stinking up the border with Canada. It’s ugly for a simple building from 1981, and is in palpable disrepair. It’s the Bronx-on-the-Falls.

UPDATE: Full disclosure, about a month after this post was originally written, one of the market’s vendors has retained my legal services to secure payment of a contractual debt.