There is no shortage of holiday markets in New York City, but there’s something about the Columbus Circle market that always feel special. And while it may be the smallest of UrbanSpace’s three NYC holiday markets (the other two are in Bryant Park and Union Square), it certainly has the biggest personality.
Each winter, Columbus Circle transforms into a mini-holiday metropolis, where local businesses and artists sell their art, clothing, food, toys, jewelry, and then unexpected things like hot sauce or cruets (a container for salt, pepper, oil or vinegar). While some vendors travel to the Upper West Side for the market, the majority of the vendors are based in New York City.
I visit the Columbus Circle Holiday market every year with my family, and we are always excited to see the returners, like “Pook” – which sells clothing made out of socks, or “No Chewing Allowed” – a chocolate company which insists that you must not chew their chocolate, but instead let it fully melt in your mouth. Equally as exciting is visiting the vendors who are taking on the Columbus Circle holiday market for the first time.
To help explain why the Columbus Circle market is so special, I talked to some of the vendors at this year’s market.
At a booth called “Sleet and Sole,” I talked to Gaby Perino about her love for socks and sustainable practices. Sleet and Sole, one of the few sock manufacturers in the U.S., makes their socks only using recycled items.
“All of the yarns are recycled, we use recycled cotton bamboo and marino wool,” Perino said. “All of the materials are eco-friendly and don’t add more to the already large amounts of textile waste.”
At the Sleet and Sole factory in Newark, they transform recyclable plastic bottles into high performance sustainable yarns.
“One pair of socks has 3 plastic bottles that would’ve gone into waterways,” Perino said.
Sleet and Sole first opened in 2018, but they weren’t able to sell their socks in person when COVID hit. Now, they are excited to be back at the Columbus Circle Holiday Market to show off their socks in person.
I then came across a local Brooklyn-based artist named Nicolas Cascio, who was eager to tell me about his artwork titled “Live Art on the Street,” but slightly camera shy (he insisted I ought to focus on the work and not the artist).
Cascio calls his work “mixed media” and he uses newspaper as a canvas which he then paints New York city scenes on top of. Cascio was quick to note that his work is not any type of political statement, rather he pulls from random news articles and headlines.
“But the thing that I really like is that my work keeps on changing all the time because the newspapers keep on changing,” Cascio said.
Cascio has been selling his mixed media art for the past 11 years in street fairs, markets, and on the streets surrounding Union Square and outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I learned that many of the vendors sell their products online, given the high prices for a retail space in NYC. For many of them, the holiday market means an opportunity to meet customers face to face and experience the joy of the holiday season.
“Chilli Pepper Jesus”
I kept walking and stumbled upon “Hell’s Kitchen Hot Sauce,” where I spoke to the business’ owner Ron Menin, also known as “Chilli Pepper Jesus.”
Menin was first introduced to hot sauce as a kid when he and his theater buddies would “mess with different sauces” while practicing for their play “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
In 2007, Menin started working at Craftsteak with renowned chef Tom Colicchio. When Menin brought his sauces to the restaurant, he was immediately given the name “Chilli Pepper Jesus.”
Hell’s Kitchen Hot Sauce, which first opened in 2015, has 12 unique hot sauce flavors, including the “Home Run Hot Honey Mustard” and the “Hipster Repellent.” When asked about his personal favorite, Menin said that choosing a sauce would be like “choosing between your children,” but cited the “Cinnamon Ghost Crunch” as a top contender.
But Menin loves to create new flavors by pulling from different areas of his life and his favorite cuisines.
“New York is a melting pot, so I like to bring different flavors and different experiences to my hot sauce,” Menin said. Menin, who was previously in the bar business, said his hot sauce list is “like a craft beer list.” “There’s a lager and then there’s an IPA and there’s all these different unique flavor profiles,” he said.
For Menin, having pop-ups at holiday markets across the city (Hell’s Kitchen Hot Sauce is currently also at the Bryant Park and Union Square markets), represents the years of hard work he has poured into the business.
“I remember me and my sister would go into the city every year, and I remember sitting there [by Union Square Park] and saying ‘someday I’m gonna have a booth right here,’” Menin said.