Wellesley Marketplace

Cheryl Fenton writer

Hand-decorated gingerbread houses from The Gingerbread Construction Co.

You have many options to get you through the gift-giving season. You can buy things online with a stack of catalogs and credit cards by your side. If you want a more hands-on approach, you might decide to shuffle through the mob scene at the mall, standing in line after spending an hour searching for a parking space.

Or you can join your community for a festive day of supporting local artisans and crafters, while also helping those in need. On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, thousands of people do just that. Every year, moms and daughters, friends and neighbors, gather together for hours of socializing and shopping at the Wellesley Marketplace.

In its 34th year, The Marketplace is one of the four annual charitable events hosted by the Wellesley Hills Junior Woman’s Club (WHJWC). Joining the Club’s other fundraising events, the Wellesley Phonebook, Luminary Night, and the Wellesley Kitchen Tour, proceeds from this exciting shopping event assist the local volunteer organization in its efforts to bring financial assistance to groups in need.

This year’s Marketplace takes place on November 20 and attendees can shop until they drop from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. Over 2,000 people are expected to hustle and bustle their way through the Wellesley Middle School and the beginning of this holiday shopping season.

“It’s bustling and energetic and crazy, but in a controlled chaotic way,” says Mary Kaye, who co-chairs The Marketplace with Meghan Murray. “There are women in all directions shopping and browsing. A lot of friends come together, a lot of mother/daughter teams, even middle school students meet in groups and go shopping together. It’s very social.”

clockwise, from top: Sand and Water Creations in Glass; Debbie Leibole, Cynthia McMakin, and Catherine Ward of the Cafe Team; Shoppers at the 2009 Marketplace; Dean’s Sweets; (l to r) 2010 Marketplace organizers Chrissy Cassa, Lisa Bida, Barbara Gordon, Meghan Murray, and Mary Kaye.

For a $10 ticket ($5 seniors and students), shoppers find something for everyone, from works of art to food to botanical accents, pottery to pets. The fashionable set is never disappointed, with jewelry, clothing, and bath accessories as far as the eyes can see. From a $300 necklace to a $15 item, everyone walks away with something.

Does the early bird in you crave the worm? You’re in luck. “Doors open from 9:00 am to 10:00 am for premier shoppers who pay a higher price ($15) to have an extra hour to themselves,” says Kaye. “Believe it or not, there are many women lined up outside, so the exhibitors love that.”

The 130 exhibitors for the 2010 Marketplace will take over the school—the upper gym, lower gym, and the cafeteria. Even the corridor space will be utilized this year, a decision made to keep the flow of shopping traffic smooth and energetic. Shoppers’ physical energy is fueled by for-sale sandwiches, wraps, salads, clam chowder, pizza, sodas, and coffee, all donated from local restaurants. Every Junior bakes something, so at least 80 baked goods offer a great sugar rush to get tired shoppers back on the beat.

Someone Old, Someone New


Cards by Marketplace exhibitor Suzy Stayman

Marketplace goes beyond the stale offerings one might find in store after store. Unique one-of-a-kind notions add a sense of excitement, as the chore of finding the perfect gift becomes a treasure-hunting adventure.

“Holiday shoppers and craft fans alike enjoy the fresh mix of offerings,” says Wellesley-based Suzy Stayman of Stayman Cards, a four-year veteran at Marketplace with hand-embellished greeting cards. “As an exhibitor, I appreciate the opportunity to connect with enthusiastic customers, old and new. I think it’s the standard by which other craft shows are measured.”

For some, Marketplace is also measurement for potential business success. After years of attending the event to shop, this will be Wellesley resident Lisa Foley’s first time to work as she debuts Lisa’s Cards, photographic note cards and gift sets. Being welcomed into the Marketplace vendors’ circle was a turning point in her mind for her business.

“When you start a business, there are always questions as to whether you’ll succeed,” says Foley. “I had had some success selling my cards to stores locally, as well as a few hostess shows. I put an application in to Marketplace. It’s a wonderful group of artisans, so I knew it wasn’t a given [that I would be accepted]. When Lisa [Bida] called to inform me that my application had been accepted, I told her that I felt like a real business.”

Guaranteeing the perfect mix of product, the Marketplace Chairs have a juried process in the Spring before the event to select from 300 applicants vying for coveted exhibitor spots.

“We give priority to vendors whose items are handmade and unique, and not available in traditional stores. We look for things that strike our fancy that our shoppers would like,” says Lisa Bida, Exhibitor Co-chair with Chrissy Cassa. Although it’s always nice to see local community artists and crafters, anyone is welcome as long as their wares fit the bill. “We also try to keep things in a range that’s appealing to all of our shoppers.”

“We try to keep it fresh, new, and different, so that the people coming through get something exciting,” says Kaye. “But we do have some old favorites because they’re tried and true. We try to keep the ones that the people really do look for.”

Photo by Marketplace exhibitor Lisa Foley


“There’s a great combination of some new and those old standby things that you expect to see every year,” says shopper Patti Bishop, a Wellesley resident with a decade of Marketplace in her shopping bag. A traditional pre-holiday treat, Bishop and her daughters meet up with five or six of Bishop’s friends and their daughters for a few hours of shopping and lunching. “Everyone really looks forward to it.”

“I always see repeat people looking forward to coming to our booth,” says Michele Clements, general manager of The Gingerbread Construction Co., an exhibitor for 25 years with hand-decorated gingerbread houses, tasty gingerbread boys and girls, and gourmet muffins. The Gingerbread Co. is such an institution at The Marketplace that customers even call in orders prior and pick them up at the booth. “It’s wonderful to hear people tell me stories about how it’s their tradition to come to our booth every year and buy a gingerbread house for their holidays. It warms my heart.”

The Real Gifts

Also warming to the heart is the main goal of Marketplace. Although they appreciate the shorter gift lists and catch-up sessions with friends, shoppers can leave knowing they have done something good. Every ticket purchased, every vendor table rented, every slice of pizza sold, a person in need is helped.

“It’s really something that people look forward to, seeing friends, doing a little shopping. But it’s a feel good thing because all the money we raise is given back to the community in the form of scholarships and donations,” says Bida.

Beginning as a small craft fair with a flea market feel in 1974, it took three years for the shopping event to earn its name The Wellesley Marketplace. Already a sought-after place to showcase wares (boasting 86 exhibitors), that was the first year it made a difference, raising $2,000 for charity. Every year Marketplace has grown, with 2010’s event hoping to net $45,000.

Although this year’s funding recipients won’t be announced until May 2011, donations have definite targets: educational, recreational, health care, and community programs. All proceeds from The Marketplace support worthy charities in local communities, including the Newton Wellesley Hospital Vernon Cancer Center, Wellesley Friendly Aid, The Walker School, WINGS summer programs, the Elizabeth Seton Residence, and many more. In 2009-2010, WHJWC donated approximately $140,000 to the community, divided between donations and scholarships, through all four charitable events including Marketplace.

REACH Beyond Domestic Violence is one of the organizations WHJWC has supported in recent years. Standing for Refuge, Education, Advocacy, and Change, this outreach program has tripled in size in the past decade partially due to contributions from the Club. REACH offers 24-hour hotline services, emergency shelter and safe home, support groups, legal advocacy, specialized children’s services, community-based victim advocacy programs, outreach, education, and training.

Gourmet muffins from Marketplace exhibitor The Gingerbread Co.

Donations from the WHJWC have totaled over $30,000 to date, most of which has gone to expand REACH’s shelter programs. Each annual donation, which can range from $1,000 to $5,000, might help provide a full month of a safe place for someone to stay or help answer 130 of the 2,000 hotline calls in a year.

“What an organization like the Club has done through events like Marketplace and by being a supporter each year, is allow us the ability to sustain what we do, to grow, to take on new challenges, and make a difference in the community,” says Laura VanZandt, Executive Director of REACH. VanZandt herself has shopped the Marketplace over the last couple of years with her daughter. “When you have a sustaining giver like the Club and people in the community take an interest, that’s what gives an organization the strength to grow.”

The Holiday Spirit

“There is a true spirit at The Marketplace,” says Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based Loni Seligman, who has been selling her SoapSmiles soaps for a few years at the event. Shoppers can expect a new Dresses & Accessories collection added to Seligman’s sudsy treats this year. “It’s unique and upbeat, with a strong feeling of support among the crafters and organizers. Everyone is getting into the holiday spirit. The people who attend are so nice and care about the community.”

“I admire how hard the exhibitors work on their craft and their talent,” adds Bishop. “It’s wonderful to see that expressed in so many tangible works of art. It takes such talent, skill, and dedication.”

“My favorite thing about Marketplace is that it’s become a special thing that my dear friends and I do with our daughters together,” she adds. “That’s fun. It’s that traditional holiday experience that the girls, my friends, and their friends do together and we have a really good time. It’s the beginning of the holiday season that we all anticipate, and that’s a wonderful feeling.”

But don’t think it’s all fuzzy feelings, fun, and games.

“When people put on their shopping hats,” laughs Bida, “they’re there to shop!” 


Wellesley Hills Junior Woman’s Club (WHJWC) will present the fourth annual Luminary Night on Sunday, December 5th (Storm Date: December 12th). Homes and businesses throughout the town will light luminary candles and place them along their driveways, sidewalks, and storefronts. Proceeds will directly benefit WHJWC scholarship and donations recipients, as well as the Wellesley Friendly Aid Association (WFAA), which provides food, medicine, emergency assistance, and other important services to Wellesley residents. In 2009, more than 18,000 luminaries lit up Wellesley, raising more than $23,000 for the WFAA. This is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to share in the holiday spirit and be part of a neighborhood tradition, while helping those less fortunate. Luminary kits include materials to create ten luminaries, and are sold for $15. For more information on how to be part of Luminary Night 2010, please e-mail luminarynightwellesley@gmail.com or go to www.whjwc.org.

© 2010 Elm Bank Media | Beth Furman, Publisher Beth@ElmBankMedia.com

Summer 2023