Practical to walk through when you need goodies to slip under the tree, this miniature village of shops is inspiring even after you’ve given all your gifts.
A few weeks ago, I decided to brave the holiday shopping crowd and ventured out to the Holiday Shops at Bryant Park. Though I was hunting for stocking stuffers at the time, it wasn’t the trinkets and artwork and food stalls that held my attention. It was the shops themselves.
It was my first time walking through the 100+ glass-encased kiosks, and in the dark along the cobblestone paths of the park, they really did look like the jewel boxes that inspired their design. And about six steps in from 42nd street, I saw why these illuminated shops have always been amongst the city’s favorites: within their four shiny walls, the decor and setup are works of art as much as the handcrafted goods they housed.
The most memorable kiosk belonged to Friction Jewelry, a pop-up that migrates around the country. Perhaps the fact that they don’t have a permanent retail store anywhere makes them an old hand at outfitting small spaces, but I loved the modern aesthetic of its black-and-white wallpaper and bold red paint. In a market decked with bright baubles and sparkling gems, this was the only jewelry store that I set foot into. (To the store’s credit, its preserved leaf pieces were stunning–my next bank statement will tell you how much.)
Just as these markets are expos of artisan crafts, the park grounds were a funhouse for interior decorating. Some shops took efficiency to an extreme, gilding every surface possible and hanging all sorts of paraphernalia from every few inches of the ceiling. Others took a cleaner approach, relying on charismatic typography to create the right vibe.
For first-time browsers like me, there was much more to the shop than first met the eye, and I’d repeatedly found a line of shops splintering off from a spot I’d already passed. On one such occasion, I saw another job well done in a dark marbled wall and dramatic lights. For some reason, the giant tree branch mounted on the wall registered as larger-than-life antlers at first glance–but I guess it did the job in catching my eye. At any rate, I had to admire that this was a jewelry store that wasn’t a pastel or neon hue, and I was glad I took the time to backtrack before heading out.
It was also thanks to a loop back that I came upon the Southwest Porch. Serving up hot snack fare under wooden light beams and a glowing speckle of light bulbs, this charming rest stop was no less well-designed than the surrounding shops. I knew that if I’d been exploring with a group of girlfriends, we’d be among the smiling shoppers huddled on bench swings and rockers, warming up next to toasty heat lamps.
That’s not to create any illusions about the Holiday Shops as a mystical winter wonderland. For full disclosure, when you get to have so much fun, mistakes are bound to happen. Many stores made me catch my breath, but not all in a good way–particularly ones with showcases covered entirely by faux fur. With hot pink accents and curly font to boot.
But then again, what’s holiday cheer without a good dose of laughter? Even if you’ve blown through your budget for the season, the Holiday Shops are still a fantastic sight to see. Sure, there’s always Museum Mile when you’re feeling artsy, but there’s nothing like the crisp winter air to perk you up. Bryant Park’s lovely displays will be there for two more weeks until 01/08/12, so if you’re in NYC, treat yourself to something different and catch it while you can.