COVID-19: Christmas Comes to Dilworth Park Despite Pandemic

Photo courtesy of Lokal Artisan Foods

For the past several years, the City of Philadelphia has hosted Winter at Dilworth Park, a holiday market hosted in Dilworth Park that coincides with the annual Christmas Village Holiday Market, which sprawls across Love Park and the area outside City Hall each year. 

Winter at Dilworth Park is open now and will run through Feb. 28, 2021. The annual event includes an outdoor ice skating rink, local vendors, food, drinks, and regular holiday events for tourists and local families. 

Though there will be fewer vendors to accommodate social distancing, the outdoor festivities will continue this year despite the pandemic. 

Philadelphia native Judith Snyder-Rothman looks forward to attending Winter at Dilworth Park and Christmas Village each year, but isn’t so sure about this year. 

“I love going to Christmas Village, but I’m probably not going to go this year as COVID cases in Philadelphia are surging,” she said. 

The outdoor activities feature guidelines to keep customers and vendors safe. Visitors are required to wear a mask in the ice skating rink, and masks are required in all other areas, except when eating food. 

Philadelphia native Ben Rhodes will be spending money at Dilworth Park when he can.

“I’ve gone out and supported Winter at Dilworth Park for as long as I can remember,” he said. “I will be going this year with my mask up to show our city love and support during these hard times.”

Many vendors faced a hard decision, not knowing whether it would be worth the risk to attend this year. In the past, high foot traffic through Dilworth meant vendors had regular access to customers they might otherwise not reach. Those interactions are always face-to-face, and it is difficult to predict what the turnout will be this year; whether or not potential profit justifies the risk. 

Charisse McGill, owner of Lokal Artisan Foods usually has a stand at Dilworth Park. The set up this year is a little different from her past experiences.

“Normally we’re in Dilworth Park,” she said. “But with COVID, there’s no more hot prepared food in Dilworth Park, so all of the hot prepared food is now in LOVE Park, in the food court.”

Established in 2018, Lokal Artisan Foods makes most of its revenue serving food at outdoor events, including tourist attractions, pop-up markets, and festivals like Christmas Village and Winter at Dilworth Park. 

To attract as many customers as she can, McGill is featuring her more popular items, while also offering some new things she hopes will take off.

Lokal Artisan Foods famous French Toast Bites. (Courtesy of @lokalartisanfoods)

“Leading the pack with popularity is our French toast bites, that’s what we’re known for,” McGill said. “We also have a French toast beer we created this year.” 

Stanford Ponson, owner of Old City Canning Co., sold candles he makes at Dilworth Park for the first time last Christmas. But because of the pandemic, he chose not to this year. 

“Last year was the first year we did Dilworth,” he said. “It’s a huge investment. With COVID and now these lockdowns, it’s a huge question of would we even sell enough to make up the cost of admission and set up.”

Ponson is a lawyer and used to create candles just for friends. When he realized how much his friends liked the candles, he decided to make selling them a more formal business. 

Despite choosing not to have a stand in Dilworth Park this year, Ponson is selling his candles and other items out of a storefront at 1533 South St. 

“Center City is dead, but all the neighborhoods around Center City are bustling,” he said. “It was organic that a friend of a friend mentioned a retail space that was available.”

Ponson’s candles are also available at other retailers throughout the city, and he feels lucky that his business does not have to rely on sales at large festivals and events to survive.

Cranberry Birch candle made by Old City Canning Co. (Courtesy of Old City Canning Co.)

“Yes, Christmas Village is a spectacle and I hope that we can do it again,” he said. “But instead, we chose to lease out this retail space and sell our products and also allow 10 other local brands to sell their products.”  

Ponson wonders whether any vendors will make profit this year. No one knows how many customers will actually show up, he said. 

“I’d rather stay safe and miss this year’s festivities than put myself and my family at risk during the holiday season,” Snyder-Rothman said.

Other individuals will attend the festivities, though, and believe the city has done a great job preparing for this year.

Patricia Canales plans to shop for gifts at Christmas Village and Dilworth Park. 

“Everyone needs a little Christmas cheer, and I think Winter at Dilworth Park will do just that for the city of Philadelphia,” she said. “I think, because it’s outdoors and masks are required, the City is doing everything they can to ensure safety.” 

Given the strain many retailers have felt because of COVID-19, Canales wants to do what she can to help.

“I will definitely be going this year to support local businesses,” she said.

McGill is also happy with the precautions, especially because these events are important to her business’ bottom line.

“Christmas Village was very instrumental in my business growth and it was our launchpad,” she said. 

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1 Comment

  1. Richardson Dilworth was one of the greatest mayor in Philadelphia history..the first to put his money where his mouth was ,rejuvenating and bringing wealth,livelihood,and goodness to center city ..while the holidays bring joy, the safety of COVID is more important…

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