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As SoWa Market gets ready for the holidays, plans bubble for the slow season, too

Posted by Andrew Tran  October 26, 2012 05:05 PM

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Kirsten Cole arranges items from her product line, “It’s Sew You.”

For many in the South End, Sunday afternoon often means one thing: shopping at the SoWa Open Market.

Tucked away in a parking lot off of Harrison Avenue, the market sprouts row after row of 10- by 10-foot white tents. Beneath each, a variety of merchants and artisans sell their wares – jewelry and paintings, kids’ toys and clothing. In the adjoining lot, specialty food vendors and fresh produce stands lure shoppers to the SoWa Farmer’s Market, while hungry shoppers line up at food trucks parked nearby.

What started with 20 vendors in 2003 has become host to more than 100 vendors each weekend now, drawing tourists and suburbanites, sellers and shoppers alike.

“It feels like home here,” said Kristen Cole, who’s been selling baby clothes and fabric accessories from her product line, “It’s Sew You” at the SoWa market for three seasons. “The vendors feel like family.”

Traditionally, the market has followed the seasons, and its outdoor season ends this Sunday. To mark the final day, the market is promoting a special event, Market of the Living Dead, which will include costume contests and pumpkin carving, just in time for Halloween.

Though the tents will come down afterwards, the vendors aren’t packing up just yet. For awhile now, Chris Masci, who started the event nine years ago, has been looking for ways to make it a year-round enterprise.

A first step is to prepare for the holiday shopping season. Many of the vendors will appear at the Hingham Shipyard Holiday Market on Nov. 24 and 25. Then it’s back to the South End for the SoWa Holiday Market on Dec. 8 and 9 at the Benjamin Franklin Institute.

These holiday markets often give a big boost to vendors’ sales.

“There’s a big rush around Christmas time where we actually see a spike in revenue,” said Jen Gubicza, who designs plush kids’ toys. She works alongside her husband, Brian, who makes paper and wood cut illustrations. “We do this full time so we really rely on the holiday markets.”

Then the drought starts. Cole, like many vendors, supplements her clothing and fabric line with an Etsy shop, an online marketplace where vendors can sell handmade crafts, even without a brick and mortar store. Still, when the season ends, so do her regular sales.

“I usually nanny through the winter to make some income, but I’ve already had a conversation with my husband that we’re just going to have to cut back this year,” she said.

These lean months are one reason that Masci has been looking for ways to keep the markets alive in winter.

Last year, he started the SoWa Winter Market to help his vendors during the slow months from January to April. This year, he’s decided to try special events instead.

“We’re looking into a couple ideas for one-off shows,” Masci said, “including an Indie Wedding show and an Indie Kids show.”

The wedding show would have vendors selling everything from stationary, to glassware, to jewelry, Masci said. The kids show would feature sellers, like Gubicza, who make toys and clothes.

The indie shows will still have a local feel, Masci said, “because it’s all about supporting local artisans.” But it’s also his goal to reach beyond the South End in these thematic efforts.

The story is part of a partnership between Emerson and the Globe.

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