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Tented holiday markets present lucrative opportunities

Project Briefs | October 1, 2010 | By:

Starr Tents builds two markets for New York City shoppers, just in time for the holidays.

There’s no place like New York City for the holidays. And as if there weren’t enough shopping options in the city’s iconic department stores and boutiques, tented holiday markets have grown in popularity. Starr Tents of Mount Vernon, N.Y., builds two of these custom markets every year, patterned after London’s famous Flower Market.

“The first year we set up marquees with soft sides in a row, I think we did maybe 25-30 units,” Starr Tents president Christopher Starr says. “We are now up to 179 units [at Union Square], where we’ve really run out of space.”

As the markets have grown, the red and white, 6-by-10-foot tents have become customized units with hard sidewalls, awnings and security features. “It’s worked very well for vendors, the producers [Urban Space Markets] and the tent company,” Starr says.

The Holiday Market at Union Square is installed in five days and opens the day after Thanksgiving. One of the biggest challenges is the site itself. Not only is the installation over a major subway stop and near a major thoroughfare, but it is also near a popular farmers’ market whose busiest day is—you guessed it—the day before Thanksgiving.

“During that time I estimate I am diverting five to 10 thousand people a day,” Starr says. “I have a safety representative who spends 90 percent of the time making sure that the safety barricades are in place.”

The Holiday Market at Columbus Circle is on Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade route, so most of the installation of 105 units at that location begins the day after Thanksgiving and finishes the following Sunday. Given the tight timeline, organization is everything, with planning beginning in September. During the weeks the markets are open, Starr Tents is on standby for repairs.

“As any tent person will know, vinyl does not perform very well in the wintertime,” Starr says. “If anything happens, it is typically because of that.”

Starr says the key for success with tented markets is a good production.

“The customization of the equipment involves a large initial investment,” he says. “If you can convince your client that customization is the way to go to provide a unique look, they are going to renew the contract year after year.”

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