Auburn announces plans for European-style Christmas market

·3 min read

Sep. 22—AUBURN — It may only be the beginning of autumn, but it seems the people of Auburn already have holiday fever.

On Wednesday, when the city announced it is organizing a downtown "Christmas village" shopping area 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 staff had already received 73 vendor applications. As of Thursday, the single Facebook post promoting the event had been shared more than 650 times.

The idea for the holiday market is based on the traditional European open-air Christmas markets, where vendors sell a variety of goods for holiday gifts, as well as foods and beverages. The markets are popular in larger cities such as Philadelphia and New York, but Mayor Jason Levesque said he and Liz Allen, the city's director of communications and community engagement, have been dreaming up the idea for several years.

"It's clear people want this," he said Thursday. "It's been an amazing response."

Levesque said staff talked about the idea for the city's 150th anniversary in 2019 but it ultimately didn't move forward. In subsequent years, COVID-19 took over. He said now is "the right time."

"We are so excited that this is finally coming together," Allen said. "We have had this dream, this concept, for about four years now and to see it shaping up — and to see the community's excitement after just one day of promotion — makes it even more exciting."

The market will open Saturday, Dec. 3, as part of Auburn's annual tree lighting at Festival Plaza, and will run Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays each week until Christmas.

The Facebook post described it as "small 'pop-up shops' nestled around the Christmas tree. Think: cocoa and coffee, unique gifts, wreaths, holiday music and more."

The amount of interest from the public has already led organizers to rethink some details. Because they didn't know what to expect, the city originally looked to require vendors to sign on for all three weekends. However, Levesque said that will likely change due to the number of vendors interested in a single weekend. He said it will allow a greater variety of vendors from week to week, enticing shoppers to return multiple times.

Work on the infrastructure for the village, complete with multiple custom-made buildings, is underway. In June, the City Council appropriated $200,000 from its allotment of the American Rescue Plan Act toward modular event spaces and a kayak rental kiosk.

Asked Thursday, Levesque said the city has purchased one modular space, known as an OpBox, which will be used for a beverage vendor at the holiday market. Some of the money has also been set aside for at least six, 8- by 10-foot buildings for the Christmas village. Due to the demand, the city may purchase more, but Levesque said the wooden shed-like buildings will be decorated and have electricity.

He said they can be reused for the annual New Year's Auburn event as well as farmers' markets.

The Christmas village idea, he said, is part of the city's goals of making downtown Auburn "a destination within southern Maine."

"It's a way to support downtown businesses, provide a venue for entrepreneurs and bring back community pride, and people are already loving it," he said.

For more information or for those interested in applying, go to: www.goauburn.me/christmas-village.

According to the website, there is no charge for participants, however selected participants must agree to open during established hours.

Among the more than 140 comments on the post, mostly lauding the city for taking it on, was a simple one from Linda Provencher.

"It's about time," she said.