Gifts on the Green

Gifts on the Green

To view images at higher quality—as well as a gif capturing the moment the tree was lit—check out the email edition of this story.

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After a year off due to the pandemic, the energy was even more buoyant than usual at last night’s tree lighting on the Green. Scarcity, it seems, has once again reminded us how much we value a thing. Plus, temperatures were mild—lovely weather for a sleigh ride together.

There really was a sleigh, or at least a facsimile of one, carrying Santa and the Missus and the next group waiting in line for a photo with them. That was a highlight for families, especially young kids, some of whom treated the big guy like a Beatle as he later disembarked from the main stage. But the Holiday Village, a popup gift market splayed like a V in the Green’s northeastern corner—where it continues from noon to 8 today and noon to 6 Saturday—was a highlight for adults, including the vendors themselves.

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Anthony Murrell, the designer behind year-old local menswear brand Black Goat Milk Clothiers, expressed gratitude for the chance to “get out there and do what’s in your heart.” Standing next to his booth filled with branded tees and sweats, sporty rugby shirts and wintery knits that look ready to hit both the streets and the slopes—plus a bombastic selection of what I’m calling pop graffiti prints by local DJ/fine artist Dooley-O—Murrell, 50, described his business as a dream deferred. He’d been studying fashion when the Great Recession knocked him off his intended course. But it was during another disruption, the pandemic, that he realized he couldn’t wait any longer. With an eye toward “bigger, loftier things” including “more cut and sew” in the future, for now he’s smartly building a customer base with well-crafted basics.

Alli Greenberg and James Cofrancesco’s business, playfully dubbed The Junk Drawer, also began about a year ago with a mid-pandemic flash of inspiration. Greenberg describes going to a friend’s childhood home to help clear it out, where she discovered a trove of turn-of-the-millennium toys headed for the dump. But Greenberg had recently been rabbit-holing into environmental issues, “so we took and started upcycling it”—into jewelry, keychains, wine charms—“and just selling it to friends, as a side thing.” After selling out, they realized they had a business on their hands, and since those early days, the range of nostalgia has broadened. At the Holiday Village, The Junk Drawer’s earrings alone spanned Looney Tunes, The Wizard of Oz, Gumby, Star Wars, Rugrats, the Spice Girls, SpongeBob SquarePants, fast food toys and something Greenberg loves from her own childhood, which were completely new to me: HitClips. Greenberg and Cofrancesco even had on hand a pair of the tiny, pre-iPod boomboxes needed to play the 60-second pop song snippets contained on the miniature cartridges.

Also delighting people at small scale were the mini donuts of Many Donuts. Another young business, it’s been operating since August from inside the Exxon gas station at 775 Whalley, where flavors can range from Apple Pie to Cookies & Cream to Strawberry Shortcake, replete with drizzles of this and sprinklings of that. Given the limitations of a popup space, the menu at the Holiday Village is a bit tighter. Last night’s customers, who sometimes queued 10 or 15 deep, chose from two classic choices (Cinna Suga and Powda Suga, $6 for six) and two deluxe options (S’Mores and Holiday Party, $8 for six)—what co-owner Anita McLean called “remixes”—along with beverages including hot chocolate. McLean owns the business with her husband, Cedric Emery, who was posted up near the fryer. And if I’m not mistaken, it was their teenaged children who were taking the orders and making the donuts look pretty.

Offering to help all of us make things pretty (or at least functional) was another Village participant: the nonprofit community maker space known as MakeHaven. With just a handful of items, albeit rather polished-looking ones, made by volunteer facilitator Alex Murdoch—whose wares, I’m told, will be replaced by other makers’ stuff as they rotate through—MakeHaven’s booth was rather spare last night. But its home base at 770 Chapel Street is not. As Lior Trestman, MakeHaven’s shop manager, put it, “We’re open 24/7. We have a huge range of equipment in about 10,000 square feet. We have 400 members. We have 25 instructors and facilitators including Alex”—he gestured to Murdoch—“so that you don’t need to know anything when you come in. We’ll teach you how to do whatever it is that you’re trying to do. We have an industrial kitchen. We have every kind of sewing, quilting, embroidery, knitting machine. We have a wood shop, metal shop, lasers, 3D printers, massive five-foot-wide printers… We have all the things. If you can name a tool, we have it.” And that’s important to know, because the MakeHaven booth is selling at least one consistent product over the course of the Holiday Village: discounted, giftable memberships. Normally costing $50 per month on a month-to-month basis, at the Village you can snag a two-month membership for $75 or a six-monther for $200.

Standing near the market a little bit later, Cathy R. Graves, the city’s deputy director of economic development, highlighted an even better deal, albeit one destined for just a single lucky family: a set of four complimentary round-trip tickets to Orlando, Florida, courtesy of Avelo, Tweed Airport’s new resident airline. That was offered as an incentive during a popup vaccination clinic for kids aged 5 to 11, which finished up last night. She pointed out that some of the night’s other elements will return over the next two days, including a petting zoo today and live entertainment Saturday, and credited the Small Business Resource Center, which resides within the city’s Office of Business Development, with top billing for making the market happen. Gerry Garcia, small business counselor in the same department, noted that planning had to occur on a tight schedule this year because of the uncertainty caused by COVID. But, Graves said, “we hope it will be twice as big next year,” which would mean about 30 kiosks. Garcia added that the specter of COVID, which has made it even harder for many small businesses to succeed, meant it was all the more important to pull the holiday market together—“to create a venue where New Haven entrepreneurs could get attention and build their lists and sell unique one-of-a-kind gifts that Amazon’s just not going to bring to your house.”

Between the organizers, vendors and support staff and systems, it’s taken a village to make this Village. Go give it a visit.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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