Tarna Zander

Ten local businesses showcased their products at a Saturday pop-up market to prime the appetites of shoppers in the weeks before the giving season.

The event, called Holiday Haven, was the result of a partnership between Onyeka Obiocha, president and co-founder of the Happiness Lab, the coffee shop on Chapel Street that hosted the event, vintage-clothing store owner Melissa Gonzales and Project Storefronts, a city program that supports small businesses. Featuring jewelry designers, artisans and food makers, the event aimed to give New Haven shoppers the opportunity to buy local in a convenient and accessible setting.

“The purpose of this event is to give people an opportunity to shop at a holiday market that is hyper-local,” Gonzales, owner of the shop Vintanthromodern, said. “People are really into buying local, buying things that are handmade, things that aren’t made in China, and supporting small business.”

Gonzales said the pop-up shop is particularly helpful for salespeople because most small businesses nowadays, including eight of the 10 vendors at Holiday Haven, do not own brick-and-mortar spaces. Events that allow entrepreneurs to debut their products to customers in person are particularly important, she added.

Gonzales spearheaded the first Holiday Haven in 2013, after she invited friends to vend alongside her when she acquired a brick-and-mortar shop at Trolley Square. The venture was a success, so Gonzales and her friends decided to hold a pop-up market to promote both their businesses and others’.

“A few small business owners, all women, came together,” said Kate Stephen, the owner of Kate Stephen Jewelry and an original Holiday Haven organizer. “We were friends, and just had seen each other through the circuit of vending. We just made it happen — a really grass-roots effort, a labor of love.”

Stephen, a four-year-veteran of the Connecticut vending circuit, said she attends over 50 pop-up markets each year. She said having a tight-knit community of vendors is a necessary element for success as a small business. Stephen also emphasized the supportive role of brick-and-mortar boutiques that give space for artisans to sell their products.

Obiocha, who co-hosted Holiday Haven with Gonzales, said he feels he has a responsibility to support developing businesses now that A Happy Life, his coffee-making company, has achieved relative success.

“When you get in a certain spot, it’s almost your duty to help the next batch of artisans and entrepreneurs and designers,” Obiocha said. “People did it for me, and this is crucial to [rising] up.”

Project Storefronts Program Manager Elinor Slomba said New Haven is a city in progress, highlighting the city’s rich economic development at the small-business level. She said Project Storefronts supports this growth by offering grants and subsidies to New Haven small businesses. The program also assists entrepreneurs in negotiations with property owners of potential brick-and-mortar stores.

Gonzales said she is grateful for community events like Holiday Haven because they draw attention to the hard work of the city’s entrepreneurs.

“[This city] gets a bad rap sometimes,” Gonzales said. “But there’s a thriving creative and small-business entrepreneur network happening in New Haven.”

Elaine To ’19 said Holiday Haven gave her the opportunity to learn more about New Haven, noting that students often feel disconnected from the city.

Project Storefronts is produced by the New Haven Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism and supported by the Economic Development Corporation of New Haven and New Haven’s Department of Economic Development.