Belleville OKs German Christmas Market; some merchants voice concerns

News-DemocratJuly 7, 2014 

People walk at the Gendarmenmarkt in downtown Berlin. There is a proposal to set up a German Christmas Market in the Public Square to commemorate Belleville's bicentennial year.

AP

— The Belleville City Council voted 12-2 on Monday to allow a German Christmas Market downtown this holiday season for the city's 200th anniversary.

Organizers want the Belleville Christkindlmarkt open-air market, popular in Germany, as a nod to the city's German heritage and to attract new shoppers to Belleville.

The council approval allows organizers, the Belleville 200 Committee and the Belleville Cultural Enrichment Organization, to finalize plans with about eight vendors who will sell traditional German fare.

Some downtown merchants, however, say the temporary vendors will take away from their sales at what is typically the most profitable and crucial time of the year.

Aldermen voted after hearing from residents and business owners on both sides of the issue.

Ward 6 Alderman Bob White and Alderwoman-at-Large Lillian Schneider voted no. Ward 1 Alderman Ken Kinsella and Ward 7 Alderman Trent Galetti were absent.

Eight downtown businesses penned a letter to the council sharing their concerns, prompting White to ask the council to table the issue so city officials can reach a compromise with these business owners.

In brief, the letter said:

* Businesses will be impacted because parking is already limited in downtown Belleville during the holidays.

*It is irresponsible for organizers to gamble the success of brick-and-mortar businesses to see if a vendor-based market will succeed.

*City leaders should not approve the event when they don't know all the details of the proposal, such as whether items offered by the vendors will be the same as downtown stores and if the city will have to pay for electricity, portable bathrooms and security.

Mayor Mark Eckert played a video of organizer Carole Piontkowsky explaining the perks of bringing such a market to Belleville, including drawing those from Scott Air Force Base familiar with the tradition in Germany to shop in the city. Piontkowsky's husband retired from the Air Force.

And, at one point during the City Council meeting, Eckert suspended his role as moderator to explain why he want council members to take a risk and allow the event. He also said that if the council tables the vote, then vendors will likely not be able to commit to Belleville because they usually plan a year ahead for events.

"I just ask you to be visionaries tonight and consider this," Eckert said. "We won't know unless we take a gamble."

After the vote, Eckert promised to meet with downtown business owners about their concerns and provide more information about the event, such as stall placements and more information about cost.

The market is slated to be open Nov. 28 through Dec. 23. Vendors will set up on the concrete plaza of the Public Square in the quadrants by the Bank of America building, where the Santa House is typically located, and the Art on the Square building.

It would be open from 12 to 6 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturdays.

Also on Monday:

*The council had a moment of silence for former Sen. Alan Dixon, who died Sunday morning after an illness.

*The council also recognized the Joseph family for operating the Oliver C. Joseph auto dealership for 100 years in Belleville, making it the longest remaining family founded and family operated Dodge dealership in the country.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 618-239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDJLee.

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