I get it. I really do. The Charlotte Christmas Village in Romare Bearden Park has so much potential that people yearn for it to be magically perfect in its first year of existence. It’s not perfect. It’s small.
But Charlotte needs to stop complaining and enjoy the Christmas Village for what it is – the first attempt at what could be a Charlotte Christmas tradition for many years to come.
46% of Facebook reviewers have given the Christmas Village a one out of five star rating.
Upset attendees have taken to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to air their anger. The event isn’t meeting most attendees’ expectations.
For example, when we posted a harmless strudel photo from the event on Agenda Instagram handle, followers left comments like:
- “Very disappointing – no village feel… couple of white tents with some food. Don’t waste our time. Way too much hype”
- “What a waste of time. Charlotte should be embarrassed. They should have done it right or not done it all.”
- “Disappointed. We were hoping to buy some Christmas stuff or hand crafted gifts and left with nothing.”
- “Disappointing. Hoping they are learning how to make it better next year.”
It also didn’t help that the Charlotte media fell in love with this event. Media coverage created an expectation that didn’t meet reality.
Complaints include: few vendors, few food options, cheap white tents instead of wooden huts, not enough space to sit/relax and vendors that have nothing to do with Christmas, like salespeople from Leaf Filter Gutter Protection and Carolina Home Remodeling.
“We would have loved to have wooden huts this year,” Dena Bruton-Claus
Is it weird to see a Bathtub Makeover Giveaway tent as one of the few vendors at the Christmas Village? Of course it is. But let’s also remember that admission is free and events like this need sponsors to exist.
Obviously, people don’t want gutter salespeople at a Christmas event. The goal of most event producers is to build up enough brand equity to have sponsors like Coca-Cola Bottling that get value from brand association instead of activation. This takes years.
Food and drink options include bratwurst from 5Church, mini donuts, strudel, roasted nuts, wine, coffee, cider from Red Clay Cider and beer from Blue Blaze.
All delicious, but there’s not much.
I do wish I saw more local vendors at The Christmas Village.
An 8×8 vendor space was $3,000 and the 16’x8′ space was $4,800.
This cost is material to local artisans, many of which may not have the inventory to keep up with demand and would have an additional payroll expense to staff a space for all the hours. An easy solution to this would have been to allow different vendors over the course of 30 days.
“We had a line all the way until 9 p.m. on Saturday night and it was crazy,” the lady working the Helmut’s Strudel tent told me. “The crowds have been amazing.”
Because of the crowds, I expect vendor sales will be much easier in Christmas of 2017. My take is that vendors like the Strudel business are printing cash.
The Charlotte Christmas Village runs from November 24 to December 24 at Uptown’s Romare Bearden Park. It’s open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday – Wednesday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Thursday – Saturday and Noon to 6 p.m. Sunday (closed Monday).
The event is produced by Martin Madison LLC which is owned by a husband and wife team – Dena Bruton-Claus and Paul Claus. Yes, their last name is seriously “Claus.”
Dena and Paul studied the Christmas markets in both Chicago and Philadelphia when planning for Charlotte.
“It’s clear that Charlotte is ripe for this type of Christmas market,” Dena told me over the phone. “There’s a lot of shopping going on. We’re learning a ton and we hope to have more performance programming, kid’s activities and vendors in 2017. Now that everybody has had a taste on what this can be – city, county and Center City Partners – our goal is to get planning started in January of 2017 for next year’s Christmas Village.”
Dena went on to explain to me that they’re currently at vendor capacity for the upper park of Romare Bearden Park and that due to the ACC Championship activities (which got canceled) securing the entire park wasn’t an option.
Dena and Paul would love for the Charlotte Christmas Village to take over all of Romare Bearden Park and she didn’t rule out spilling over into BB&T Ballpark at some point.
Dena was very polite over the phone, but my sense is that the city and county had no idea how big of a hit this would be.
On Sunday, I had an early lunch with my son at Mellow Mushroom (across the street) and we walked over to the Christmas Village when it opened at noon.
There were hundreds of people in the village by 12:30 p.m. and I loved the Uptown energy. We grabbed a dozen donuts for $5 and walked around the main circle of vendors for 15 minutes and then played in the bottom half of Romare Bearden.
Because I had seen the online reaction, I walked into the Christmas Village with more modest expectations and we had a great time.
Charlotte must be patient with the Christmas Village. A first year event like this one is easy to Monday morning quarterback.
If the event has proven anything – it’s that Charlotte really, really wants this to be incredible.
Like a parent talking to their child, it’s interesting to see attendees continue to use the word “disappointed” to describe the event. They’re not angry, they’re disappointed.
The city of Charlotte needs to get behind the Christmas Village in a big way and roll out the red carpet. The Claus family and the city government need to learn, adapt and bring their A game in 2017.
And the rest of us need to nibble on some strudel, sip some cider, reset our expectations and stop freaking about a lovely (although small) first year of a free Christmas event.