The Holiday Market pop-up shop on the Ped Mall will be open Thursday through Saturday and two other weekends in December. The teddy bears that aren’t sold will be donated to the United Way of Johnson and Washington Counties for children to enjoy. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Downtown District brings holiday cheer with holiday market pop-up


The Iowa City holiday market gets revamped with a new pop-up shop.

By Emily Wangen

The smell of freshly cut wood and the sound of music floated through Black Hawk Mini Park as a Holiday Market pop-up shop welcomed the holiday season.

Downtown District Director of Operations Betsy Potter said shopping in downtown offers a slower-paced, more intimate shopping experience and the opportunity to find unique gifts. 

“Coming down here to do your holiday shopping is not the same as would be to go to a big shopping mall center, because there’s just a different feel to it,” she said. 

The pop-up shop opened its doors on Nov. 25 in conjunction with Small Business Saturday, a national holiday held the Saturday after Thanksgiving. 

The market was designed by Sanjay Jani from AKAR Architecture, an Iowa City firm. 

“As a lot of time the writers will tell you, the characters want to do what they want to do during the novel, and architecture is sometimes like that,” Jani said 

Jani said he had the idea for the design after seeing a corncrib, a ventilated structure for storing unhusked corn, being illuminated by the sun’s rays while out photographing the fall scenery in the countryside. 

He said a small project like the pop-up shop has its challenges such as being able to fit the structure on a truck bed and fit downtown. 

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“We love doing small projects where we can have a hands-on approach to architecture,” Jani said.

The three structures connected by string lights that create the market are fully heated and will feature new retailers from the area each weekend. 

Holiday cheer is not new to downtown; the Downtown District has held events for many years, including a holiday market on a smaller scale. 

Potter said the downtown businesses had a one-day event called Celebrate the Season up until four years ago, when the one-day event shifted to a four-weeklong campaign to celebrate the holiday season. 

The campaign has added new events throughout the years, including the holiday market, which started out as a large heated tent that housed a variety of businesses for one day in Black Hawk Mini Park.

With the third year of the holiday market, the retailers wanted a better retail environment, so with research, the Downtown District found pop-up shops were very popular around the globe and decided to go ahead with the idea. 

“A lot of downtowns are using them as a way to create a unique shopping experience that doesn’t happen other times of the year,” Potter said

The holiday pop-up shop will be part of the other events held by the Downtown District during the holiday season including horse-drawn carriage rides through Iowa City, a downtown scavenger hunt, and visits from Santa Claus. 

The holiday market will also be home to the Teddy Bear Room, a holiday tradition in Iowa City featuring more than 100 Teddy Bears that will eventually be donated to United Way of Johnson & Washington Counties. 

Jennifer Bunning, the owner of Two Ten Design, joined with Whitties Knitties to fill one of the buildings with homemade goods. As the owner online store, Bunning said, the pop-up shop acted like a little storefront for the weekend.

She said Nov. 25 was a busy day for the market with people coming to look at the structure and the businesses.

“I love that you can come downtown, grab something to eat or go to the Java House and grab some coffee and just walk around and stop in places,” Bunning said. “And it gives businesses like ours an opportunity to showcase downtown Iowa City, just because we don’t have a storefront.”

Holiday Market Schedule

  Thursday-Saturday: Glassando, RAYGUN, Molly’s Cupcakes

  Dec. 7-9:AKAR, Full Kit, West Music

  Dec. 14-16: AKAR, Textiles, Revival

  Dec. 21-23: Ten Thousand Villages, Whoa Nelli, Catherine’s

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