Retail will return to the location of the former Yale Co-op, even before the planned redevelopment of the city-owned site and surrounding blocks.

For the five weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Holly and Ivy Market will infuse the vacant site on the corner of Chapel and Temple streets with 60 holiday gift vendors and 20 local artisans, attracting shoppers and potentially permanent retailers to the downtown area.

“Our goal is to give folks from the outside, including both retailers and shoppers, more of a sense of the potential for the downtown,” said Scott Healy, the executive director of the Town Green Special Services District. “This takes what is looked at as a liability — a vacant space — and transforms it into an asset.”

The idea for the retail show emerged in early October following New Haven’s successful Dandelion Market, held each Saturday this September on Chapel Street with over 60 outdoor street merchants.

Concerned participants in the Dandelion Market contacted Andrea Pizziconi ’01, a financial analyst for Yale’s University Properties, after three of New York City’s five major retail shows were canceled following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“That established a unique opportunity for New Haven, which had already established a relationship with some of the vendors through the Dandelion Market,” said Ronelle P. Williams, the communications director for Market New Haven, a non-profit group that promotes the city.

Pizziconi said she approached Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who showed great interest in holding such a retail show, and offered the 32,000-square-foot vacancy as a site.

Officials from the city, Market New Haven, the special services district and University Properties worked closely together on the project. They have secured commitments from 60 vendors already; 40 of them from New York.

The vendors range from vintage clothing retailer “Puttin’ on the Ritz” to handmade furniture dealer My Little India. One exhibitor will sell completely functional mini-aquariums — 4 inches to a side.

Exhibitors at the Holly and Ivy Market will pay just $200 for the five-week show, far below the $3,000 charged at some New York holiday markets. But market organizers stress that the show will not serve as an alternative to shopping at existing stores in the area.

“You don’t get this at a mall,” Healy said. “It’s just a very different experience when you’re in a historic downtown.”

The market’s organizers offered downtown merchants the opportunity to exhibit their wares at the show free of charge. Businesses that accepted will occupy prime locations near the site’s main entrance. Other downtown retailers can advertise their businesses through displays in the building’s storefront windows.

Most importantly, many of the visiting retailers are possible candidates for downtown sites.

“If they have a wonderful holiday season, which we totally expect they will, then we will pursue them for filling the vacancies downtown,” Williams said.

Healy said the special services district will offer vendors a series of tours of the downtown area to show vacant spaces, particularly in the Ninth Square and the arts district. At least 15 appropriately sized vacancies exist downtown, Pizziconi said.

Pizziconi said several participants in the Dandelion Market have expressed interest in settling down in New Haven.

“For them, this market is another step toward opening a permanent store,” she said.

The retailers participating in the market also could fill the storefronts in a redeveloped Chapel Square Mall. All three development proposals the city is considering for the Chapel Square Mall and the former sites of the Macy’s and Malley’s department stores include small retailers around the outside of the mall structure.

“The market creates a starting point for filling those boutiques,” Pizziconi said.

But establishing a successful retail district along the blocks surrounding the Chapel Square Mall may be a greater priority.

“If the Chapel Square Mall is surrounded by a ghetto, it’s going to be tough to recruit high-end retailers to the site,” Pizziconi said.

The Holly and Ivy Market should give New Haven a chance to do just that.

“It’s one thing to put together a flea market, where people come into town just to shop,” Healy said. “That will happen here, but we’re also showcasing New Haven to both shoppers and retailers.”