This year's attendance of Christmas festival around City Hall expected to set records

Pat Loeb
December 27, 2019 - 6:04 pm
The Christmas festival around Philadelphia City Hall.

Pat Loeb/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Melissa Ramos has been to Christmas Village many times but she says there's always a reason to come back.

"Every year, they add something more, it's brighter, a lot of tourists," she said on a recent visit to show a friend from New York around.

The festival around City Hall has grown immensely from modest beginnings; it's expected to set a record for the number of visitors this year.

"We were really fortunate with warm weather during the holidays," said Paul Levy, president and CEO of Center City District, which gets a chunk of the credit for the celebration's success. "It's been incredible and very exciting to see it this crowded."

It began in 2008, when Thomas Bauer of German American Marketing set up a few wooden stalls on the bare cement of what was then Dilworth Plaza. It was the depths of the Great Recession, when it seemed the economy could barely support a new enterprise.

But Bauer was back the next year with more vendors and managed to attract 200,000 visitors. By the time the Plaza was closed for renovations in 2011, the Christmas Village had become such a fixture, the city let it move to Love Park.

When the Plaza re-opened as Dilworth Park, there was now a skating rink, which also drew winter visitors. The Center City District later added a cabin for food and beverages. Then, it created the Winter Garden on the south side of the Park and this year added a wine bar there. 

Three years ago, it began a light show, projected on to the outside of City Hall. 

The Christmas Village had to move back to Dilworth in 2016 while Love Park was under construction, but after it moved back to Love Park, a companion Holiday Market with an emphasis on local Philadelphia vendors grew all around City Hall, including a carousel in the Courtyard. This year, a Ferris Wheel and kiddie railroad were added to the North Plaza.

Each year, the new additions have brought more people. A record 800,000 visited in 2018 and more are expected to have visited this year by the time the Holiday Market closes on New Year's day.

The Village and Market also add vendors every year.

"What we always try to achieve is to provide more vendors the opportunity, the platform, to sell their products and get the attention they deserve," said Anna Kuchen, marketing director for German American Marketing.

Kuchen came to Philadelphia from Germany in August to begin working on the setup.

"It's a huge success, people love it, and we love it too, we always love to see everything coming to life," she said.

Levy recalls a time when the office district was empty at night and City Hall was just a dark spot at the city's core. Now, the crowds and bustle of the holiday season makes it feel more like Philadelphia's answer to Fisherman's Wharf.

"City Hall, which William Penn wanted to be Center Square and the center of the City, is perhaps the most vibrant, densely-populated area in the evenings in the winter time now and I think it's what we all really wished for," said Levy. "Then you link it to Macy's light show and the Comcast light show and from 13th Street to 17th Street, there's just a continuous flow of people. It's really exciting. At the darkest, coldest time of the year, you bring people out to celebrate."