The Iowa City Downtown District has made this holiday season one of the most festive yet with the addition of the Kid’s Holiday Market. The market, located in Black Hawk Mini Park in the pedestrian mall, is a charming opportunity for kids to do their holiday shopping locally, without their caregivers and in a calm environment. I made an appointment for my son Fielding to do his shopping, and we headed downtown on a chilly Monday evening.
We were met by Betsy Potter, director of creative services for the Downtown District, and Christopher Hunter, their director of special events. Potter gave Fielding a worksheet so that he could make a list of who he was shopping for and note his budget. We were allowed to take a little time and preview the shopping cube, so that I could show him what I liked.
They have a wide variety of merchandise from local retailers like Beno’s, the Iowa Artisans Gallery, Glassando, White Rabbit and the Haunted Bookshop. The gifts range in price from $5-50, making it accessible for most families. I especially liked the handmade gifts, as well as the Iowa themed items. Kids will be able to shop for all age groups at the Market, and Fielding and I noticed they had an excellent selection of card games and puzzles.
Once he decided he was ready, Fielding went with Potter to the shopping cube, while I waited in the other cube in a cozy chair. While there, I spoke with Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird about why the market happened this year and what inspired it.
“Children’s markets happen all over, but we hadn’t really had one here. This is such a great opportunity for kids to shop independently, but instead of things they could find anywhere, they get to shop local, unique items,” Bird said.
Potter echoed those sentiments, noting that these markets were an annual event when she was young. “[It’s] so great for kids to be able to shop for local, handmade gifts that felt personal, rather than items purchased at big retail,” Potter said.
Each appointment takes around 30 minutes or less, depending on the decisiveness of the shopper. Fielding took around 20 minutes, and I asked him about his experience. He thought Betsy was great, and said she was really knowledgeable about the products.
“She was super helpful and showed me a bunch of stuff my mom might like,” Fielding said. “All local kids should come here and do their shopping to support our city.”
Shopping local is definitely at the heart of the Downtown District, especially for the holiday season. I asked Potter what the best part of the market was for her.
“The ability for kids to come and shop independently is so cool, and it’s neat that they can learn about local businesses in the process,” she said.
I liked that aspect as well, as so often our holiday shopping is done online or at big retailers, while the Kid’s Market allows for a more connected experience.
The coolest part, Fielding said, was “being able to pick things for my mom.” And he liked that there was “different kinds of stuff, like, neater stuff than Target.” He also said that he’d definitely come back to shop for someone else, since “they had baby gifts, teacher gifts and even gifts for dudes.”
When children are done shopping, they are escorted by their helper into the wrapping cube, where they may have the option of having their gifts wrapped. Fielding helped Hunter wrap his gifts, and he even wrapped one all by himself. This was such a charming experience, and I highly recommend making an appointment online and heading downtown with the kids in your life. The merchandise was really well curated, and many downtown businesses were well represented.
The parent experience is fantastic. The small waiting area features super comfortable chairs, perfect for enjoying your coffee, scrolling your phone or people watching in the Ped Mall. Again, the whole thing takes about 30 minutes, and the children are in a safe, calm environment as opposed to the loud, bright, crowded retail stores we’re all exhausted by at the end of the season. The Kid’s Holiday Market is the perfect opportunity to introduce children to shopping local or to continue supporting our local area merchants and artists.
The Kid’s Holiday Market is open daily 10 a.m.-7 p.m. through Nov. 24 in the Blackhawk Mini Park in Downtown Iowa City. There is a wide variety of items to satisfy everyone on your child’s list. GreenState Credit Union is sponsoring the event as well as providing shopping opportunities for families in need.