Forlorn Holidazzle Market

Nothing Says Community Like a $6 Entry Fee

Forlorn Holidazzle Market

Looking over the barricades and chain link fence at the forlorn market and the three people visiting.

I enjoy a good Christmas Market. It’s fun to wander through the booths looking at crafts and talking to other shoppers and shopkeepers (who are usually the craftsfolk responsible for the creations we’re oogling). The wooden toys that are often in abundance are my favorite, topped only by the abundance of treats from homemade stroopwafels to gelato and the ever present Gløgg, Glüwein, or Weihnachtspunsch.

I thought that Minneapolis Downtown Council replacing the Holidazzle parade with a European inspired Christmas market would be a huge hit. How could they miss?

The other night some of us suburbanites planned a fun evening in town; dinner with friends, browse the market, and enjoy an evening of the Minnesota Symphony.

Dinner at Zelo did a good job of fulfilling the first item.

We then walked down Nicollet Mall to the Downtown Council’s Holiday Market and ran in to a problem with number two. This was like no Christmas market I’ve ever been to that is open and inviting on all sides, filled with people shopping and happy shopkeepers.

This market was fenced off on all sides, had a singular entrance, and a $6 per person fee to enter. Cash only.

Nothing says welcome like barricades and a $6 entry fee. Cash Only.

Nothing says welcome like barricades and a $6 entry fee. Cash Only.

Imagine if you had to pay $6 to walk down Grand Avenue in St Paul. Or to enter downtown White Bear Lake. And there’s nothing like galvanized steel barriers and chainlink fence to create that festive holiday village mood.

The results speak for themselves. There were thousands of people walking by on Nicollet Mall and on 11th street. People walking to dinner, going to the Minnesota Orchestra, walking home from work, meeting friends for drinks.

The market? Dead.

We stood with others and looked from the outside in over the barricades and chainlink fence at the empty market.

Fortunately an excellent concert by the Minnesota Symphony salvaged our night.

Going in to town was once an absolute during the holidays. Not anymore. There is nothing even hinting at festive, much less holidazzling, along Nicollet Mall or elsewhere. And the forlorn market hiding behind it’s unwelcoming barricades only added sadness to my thoughts of what could have been.


Walker Angell

About Walker Angell

Walker Angell is a writer who focuses mostly on social and cultural comparisons of the U.S. and Europe. He occasionally blogs at, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN

28 thoughts on “Nothing Says Community Like a $6 Entry Fee

  1. Joey SenkyrJoey Senkyr

    Which night was this? I’ve visited the village/market twice (Both on weekend evenings), and both times it was packed, with the admission line running for most of the length of the block. I’m not defending the admission fee, which is stupid and hopefully won’t return next year, but if this was a weeknight, I don’t think it should be terribly surprising that something like this wouldn’t be full.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      This was last Thursday night. Given how many people were on the adjacent sidewalks it should have been packed and if it were open and inviting on all sides like those elsewhere it likely would have been.

  2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    You lost me in your fifth paragraph. We’ve spent decades trying to convince suburbanites to come downtown, all the while fighting a losing fight. Each successive attempt to build you shopping mall experience failed as its retailers eventually closed up shop.

    You got however many years of free light parades at downtown’s expense that you could bring your kids too and then flee back to the suburbs without paying for anything but parking. It didn’t keep any of those retailers alive.

    Now we have something for people who live and work downtown, with much less of a focus on kids. If that’s not your cup of tea, then fine.

    But your suggestion that the market is somehow a failure or is “empty” while lots of people are nearby who would be in there is just wrong.

    I’ve been twice myself ($6 bucks isn’t that big a deal if you’re going back). Sunday the 1st it was incredibly cold and not crowded, but it was absolutely packed with a line down the block this Saturday evening. I’ve seen big lines other times too, as I go by it all the time.

    Beyond that, those crowds on Nicollet and 11th are there for the Market (the symphony doesn’t have that kind of draw), and, you know, enjoying the reindeer, the glass making and the stage that are part of the event as well.

    The one complaint I won’t object to, though, is that the admission fee is an obstacle to inclusion for those with fewer resources. That’s lamentable. Losing a few suburbanites isn’t.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Those people certainly weren’t there for the market because the market was empty. Gobs walking by, stopping to look in, and some talking to people at the ticket booth but none going in.

      I don’t think the cost itself is much of an issue (even though in our case we did debate if it was worth it and decided it wasn’t especially given how forlorn it felt). I think it’s more the feeling it creates. Christmas markets elsewhere like Bryant Park and others in NYC, London, Amsterdam, Vienna, etc are open on all sides. They’re connected to the surrounding streets and are very inviting. You can wander in and out. You can stop by to look at something without having to go around the block to the entrance. You can easily go back after dinner to buy the wooden (LRT) train you’d looked at earlier.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        Yes, everything is better in Europe, we know.

        I agree with you that open and connected would be better (duh). But what I don’t know is whether the economics of free can be made to work (free seemed to be a real problem for the parades at the end) or to what degree being closed off is required to be able to sell alcoholic beverages.

        But again, your characterization of it as being unappealing because of desertion just isn’t how things have been in my many observations.

        Also, once you have your season pass, it is not hard to get in and out, aside from the difficulties associated with climbing around Peavy Plaza.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          I’d think the shopkeepers would do better if it were open. Certainly last Thursday night they would have.

          You raise a good point about alcohol. That’s a non-issue outside the U.S. (except for Muslim countries I don’t think many have restrictions on where alcohol is served or consumed nor do they have the strict age requirements we do). During the Holidazzle parade there were places selling Irish Coffee and similar drinks on the open sidewalks so not sure what the legalities are.

          1. Julie Kosbab

            Why is selling alcohol outside mandatory, anyway? There are multiple vendors along the route offering indoor service (or who might be able to clear their patio for limited outdoor sales during the event).

            That said, the Uptown Art fair is a pretty good example. Beer is sold in enclosed areas, but there is no cover for the outside “beer gardens.” Beer cannot be carried past the perimeters. Since this is also a festival within the bounds of the city of Minneapolis, one would think similar rules could be set in place.

            1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

              For some it’s important, for others not. I’m more likely to make an effort to go if I can enjoy a warm Glüwein while I’m shopping but the lack of it certainly wouldn’t keep me out. And perhaps similar to the overall barriers around the place, it’s much nicer to enjoy a drink while browsing and walking around than to have to go in an enclosed area to do it.

              This is also where I get on my we-need-to-stop-being-so-uptight bandwagon. We have the most restrictive alcohol (and other) laws outside of Muslim countries and they’ve not served us well. We have as bad or much worse problems as countries with much less restrictive laws and our laws only serve to teach our children that the purpose of laws is not to obey them but to figure out how to get around them.

              At a Christmas market in Europe about a third of the shopkeepers will have a pot of Glüwein or similar and many give it away for free. There is no checking of ID’s or barricading people with a pint of beer in a coral. If someone looks young they simply get a lot less in their mug (or a big smile and ‘maybe next year’ from the shopkeep or a mug of special Glüwein).

              1. Julie Kosbab

                My point, sort of, is that if they simply encourage the nearby establishments that already have liquor licenses to open their patios for the event, the end result is a positive — they drive traffic to local businesses who are licensed and equipped to deal with booze. City gets their tax.

                Europe is more permissive with their drinking age. We aren’t, and that is unlikely to change.

                1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

                  I very much agree with supporting the local businesses. How about if they’re given first dibs on setting up in the market and maybe given free booth rent? Or would they even need free rent if the market is driving enough dinner/drink business towards their B&M?

                  I think our uptightness will change. Many of the younger folk coming behind us travel a lot more, interact with people from around the world online, and have a much broader view of the world. They’ve seen how things work in Europe and elsewhere and question the problems caused by the ways that we do things. They look at the problems that we have and wonder why Europe doesn’t have these same problems.

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Getting people from the suburbs to go downtown is an interesting topic. I don’t know that malls will do it because we have those much closer and with easier parking. We’ll go downtown occasionally because my wife prefers the selection at the downtown Macy’s and both downtowns have massively better eating options than ‘burbs.

      I do think that there’s a trend back towards being outdoors, even in winter. Just look at what’s happened with our stadiums. Sterile malls seem to be struggling while Grand Avenue and Cathedral Hill, Uptown, and similar places are doing well. Would revitalizing street level along Nicollet and elsewhere help?

      Overall I think the number one thing will be getting more residents in to the cores who will naturally shop there and provide a solid foundation.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        Malls haven’t done it. We built City Center. We built Gaviidea. We built Block E. And there were others before my personal recollection.

        And, of course, suburban malls are dying/transforming now too.

        Actually, I don’t think getting people from the suburbs downtown is an interesting topic. I think it’s a futile effort and not at all what we should be considering when designing our city.

        I actually see an analogy to David’s Transportainment point. If downtown is an appealing place to live and work, we’ll get some surbanites in to visit, but we also won’t really need them and constantly planning around attracting them undermines making it a nice place to live and work.

        1. Julie Kosbab

          Urban design isn’t that different from UX (interactive).

          What’s the unique value proposition? Why should someone come to place X instead of place Y?

          Applying basic marketing says “making a city feature replicate a suburban feature” won’t do the trick, because there is no unique value to motivate someone to come the distance.

  3. Shawn

    I still believe they could have kept the parade, maybe just ran it Thurs-Sun and used that to drive traffic into a *free* market. (Other cities charge covers too, it’s not unique to MN.)

    Why dump a successful, multi-decade, multi-generational tradition? What other MN thing can say that? The market would have given folks more reason to stick around in the cold. There was a synergy there that they missed out on.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      “Other cities charge covers too, it’s not unique to MN.”

      Perhaps, though quite rare. That I’m aware of the only public market that charges is Vancouver. There are some charitable markets that charge but these are a quite different animal. Otherwise, of markets in North America and Europe that I’ve been to and researched the only time I’ve seen a charge is for specific things like ice skating or carousel rides.

      In any case, had this been like most Christmas markets and open on all sides then it would have likely been quite lively when we were there given how crowded the sidewalks were (and the comments from people surprised by there being a charge).

  4. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

    I went during the 2 for 1 lunch time special last week. Day time is only $3, so I only paid $1.50 and that ticket is now good any time for the rest of the event. So I am definitely not complaining about the price. I don’t think even $6 is bad when you factor in the entertainment at night and weekends (they didn’t have entertainment during the midday.) As far as price being a factor in not bringing in people… Really? Ever hear of how much it costs to pay to spend more money for the State Fair, the Ren Fest, etc? One would hope that the admission is going to pay for growth of the event next year and to pay the entertainment this year and every year. I think the event could use some work, but I think it has its merits even this year.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Hi Monica, I agree. I don’t think the money itself is that much of a barrier though it perhaps is in a minor way as we chose not to spend it.

      I think the barrier is that there are barriers that make the place feel uninviting. You can’t easily stop in. You can be 10 feet from a shopkeeper but you have to go around the block to the entrance and make your way back through everything else to get there and then make your way all the way back out. It produces a prison feeling rather than the open and inviting feeling of Christmas markets elsewhere.

      Perhaps it was designed by the same folks who designed Block-E and The Conservatory.

  5. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

    One other note, and perhaps bad marketing is the culprit for why this is never mentioned- but everyone who cannot pay the $3-$6 admission should be happy to hear that today (Dec 9), like every Tuesday, is Family Free Day at the market. All families admitted free of charge.

  6. Wayne

    Family free day sounds like a day where you can do something *without* being subjected to other people’s kids.

    That aside, the chain link fence and fact that Pervy Plaza is a below-grade pit really makes it seem like a gulag when I go by on the bus every day. I can’t believe preservationists fought to save that awful hole of an urban space. I hear they also want to keep the undulating curves of Nicollet mall in the redesign too? Let’s just double down on all the terrible ideas down there and make sure there are no quality urban spaces. Why don’t we just give even more of the sidewalk over to outdoor seating for restaurants too so we’re left with two feet of space to squeeze through between the light poles, awful public art and whatever other street furniture is lying around haphazardly.

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