This year’s Christmas market in Arlington will be longer, grander and more German-flavored.
Or so predicts Councilwoman Sheri Capehart, who also noted that the annual pre-Christmas festival of food, drink and gift-buying has a new name to better reflect the growing diversity of the participants and patrons.
The Arlington Christkindl Market has been rebranded the Texas Christkindl Market to celebrate its fourth year.
“What we have found is that we are the largest Christkindl market in the South,” said Capehart. The largest such market in the U.S. is in Chicago. “It’s not just a city market; it is a market that attracts people from out of state and out of country. So we thought it should be named for the largeness of it.”
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Capehart and Henry Lewczyk, vice president of marketing, communications and membership development for the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, said they believe the Arlington Christkindl market is the only one in Texas.
Officials hope that attendance will exceed the estimated 100,000 patrons at last year’s market, which lost four days to icy weather. They’re also hoping to surpass last year’s 54 vendors, who sold food, arts and crafts, clothing, fine jewelry, steins and many other items, and they’re expecting more German craftspeople to set up shop at the market this year.
“Because now we’re going into our fourth year and have kind of established ourselves as an authentic market, there’s more interest coming from overseas,” Capehart said.
The first market, in 2011, was a four-day pilot project to gauge interest, which officials determined to be very high, considering that many vendors sold out of their products in two days.
The first full-fledged market in 2012 attracted an estimated 65,000, Lewczyk said.
Since the market has free admission, counting crowds is difficult. But a survey of attendees’ ZIP codes and origins last year showed that visitors came from 29 states and 11 countries, outnumbering area residents at the market, Lewczyk and Capehart said.
One of the major changes was to open the 2014 market on Mondays, the only day of the week it had been closed. Each Monday will be dedicated Military Day to recognize armed services members.
“So many of our vendors travel from out of town, out of state, out of country,” Capehart said. “Even though Mondays are historically slow days at markets and state fairs, they would rather have the potential for a sale than no potential. They’re having to pay for hotel space, so they’d rather be at the market.”
Capehart conceived of the market during a 2007 group to visit Bad Königshofen, Arlington’s sister city since 1951. It was the Christkindl season in Germany, where Christmas markets are hallowed events. The Arlington tourists made their way to the small city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Red Fortress above the Tauber River), known for its meticulous preservation of its medieval history.
The group loved it, and on a return trip in 2011 members invited Rothenburg to collaborate with Arlington, with each city promoting its partner’s market.
Rothenburg’s leaders, who told the Arlington visitors that they have been conducting their Christkindl markets for more than 500 years, didn’t want another sister city — they have plenty — but they agreed to the Christmas market partnership to “cross-promote each of our respective markets,” Capehart said.
Posters were agreed upon as the promotional materials of choice. Rothenburg officials were single-minded in what they wanted Arlington to emphasize in the posters that were displayed last year at the Rothenburg market.
“What they wanted was: ‘Do you have anything with horses and cowboys?’ ” Capehart said. “The Germans love the old U.S. West.”
Last December, during the Christmas markets, Capehart and Ronnie Price, chief executive of Experience Arlington, were honored guests at the Rothenburg market. This year, the lord mayor and the head of tourism from Rothenburg will be recognized at the Arlington market.
Price said the market partnership could become much more than just neighborly gestures.
“It’s a greater international reach for Arlington, that’s for sure,” he said. “While we have maybe 100,000 people [attending the market], they have over a million. It’s a great amount of exposure for Arlington in an international city.”