Market Square aglow with holiday cheer

Kaitlyn Hughes | Staff Writer | Despite their temporary role in the market, MP Pinecone Designs decked their booth with holiday cheer to showcase their products.

Kaitlyn Hughes | Staff Writer

Previously dubbed the #1 Holiday Market in 2020 by USA Today, The People’s Gas Holiday Market has been bringing Christmas joy to Downtown’s Market Square for 12 years.

From Nov. 17 to Dec. 21 numerous businesses stationed in alpine-style wooden chalet stands line the marketplace, pulling inspiration from the Christmas Markets of Germany, Poland and Eastern Europe.

Attendees enjoy live music, various foods and beverages and hand-made items such as ornaments and jewelry. There is also a holiday kids play area where children can create Christmas themed crafts.

Vendors both local and visiting attend the event yearly. The market consists solely of small businesses with hand-made products. Popular vendors include 837 North, Bali Made, Helmut’s Strudel and Pittsburgh Irish Festival Celtic Gift Shoppe.

This week’s visiting vendor, MP Pinecone Designs, was manned by founder and owner Michael Pappa who started the pine cone wreath business in 2009.

Beginning with pine cone wreaths and garlands, Pappa’s brand has branched out to producing beard oil, soaps and candles as well.

Everything is all-natural with nature-related names to go with the forestry theme.

“I make everything myself 100%,” Pappa said. “Nothing is bought and sold, it is all handmade from scratch.”

As an art major, crafting his products comes naturally to Pappa.

Every pine cone he uses is organic and collected locally and nationally from various places around the country.

“It is something that I can get from nature and make it into something even more beautiful,” Pappa said.

Another vendor, Elizabeth Griffin of Copper Coast Confections, shared how she and her husband enjoy the diverse groups of people that they get to interact with.

“[My husband] loves sweets,” said Griffin. “[And] he loves the business aspect of things, so I think running a small business is what he wanted to do.”

Started in 2016 by Griffin’s husband, Copper Coast Confections’ fudge, turtles and truffles were not the only booth that had sweet treats to share.

“[Helmut’s Strudel has] pretzels and different strudels,” said market staff member Caroline Colantonia. “They’re so good…I had the apple [strudel], and it was amazing.”

Having worked for Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) for about a year, Colantonio shared the vision for the market space.

“The whole point of PDP is trying to make Downtown a better place,” said Colantonio. “It’s a good environment because all we want to do is make everyone enjoy Downtown.”

Aside from providing a comforting environment to attendees and vendors, the PDP also ensures all its staff members feel appreciated in their work environment. Managers make sure all staff members have the training and resources they need to succeed, and oftentimes they will purchase coffee for their staff.

After leaving her job at the Starbucks in Market Square, market staff member Kelli Prizner has found that helping with the market was a more enjoyable form of income.

“I couldn’t work there anymore, it got too hard. I like this a lot because I like being Downtown. This is nice because it is a very casual way to make money,” Prizner said.

“I don’t want to say it’s easy because it’s not, but it’s not retail.”

But that doesn’t stop attendee Roddy Wis from making his annual trip to the market with his wife.

“We come every year to support local artisans and help support the local economy,” Wis said.

This year Wis’s wife purchased glass earrings, and last year she took home a handmade pot holder.

In addition to shopping, the Wises also enjoy the holiday scenery of Santa Claus, Christmas trees and ice skaters.

The nostalgia brings them back to their favorite winter memories.

“We would drive down to Oglebay and look at the lights,” Wis said. As they age, the couple stays local for their holiday fix.

The People’s Gas Holiday Market excels at its mission to curate a unique holiday environment for all its members.

It was market staff member Alan Vasilisin’s first year working the event, and he could not have been more pleased to be part of it.

“You cannot say there is a bad booth here,” said Vasilisin. “Every booth here is great.”