Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park is a New York City holiday tradition that has been going strong for nearly 20 years.

"For many people, it's a symbol of the holidays," said Irene Vagianos, vice president of brand partnerships and events at Bryant Park Corporation.

New Yorkers can enjoy many of the classic activities they are accustomed to at Winter Village like sipping mulled wine, perusing local vendors, and, of course, ice skating at the free rink. But this year, amid the coronavirus pandemic, changes have been made to ensure the safety of guests.

According to Vagianos, capacity of the skating rink has been reduced, and it requires reservations. Enclosed areas, like the skating pavilion of past years, have been opened to keep air circulating. Three smaller trees replaced the village’s usual giant Christmas tree to make room for guests to social distance. 

With tourism expected to fall 66 percent in 2020, and many midtown professionals working from home, the village and its famous rink are considerably less crowded. 

"In a normal year it can get very very crowded. And I've had a lot of locals tell me they don't like to come during the holidays. They'll come in January because they don't want to deal with the crowds," Vagianos said. "But this year, New Yorkers are really getting to enjoy Winter Village for themselves."

The village also cut the number of vendors by a third to help with congestion. Soap & Paper, a Nyack, New York-based soap and candle company, was one of the vendors back in 2020. Co-owner Lisa Devo said fewer tourists would likely hurt sales, but she was grateful for the opportunity, regardless.

"Everyone's working from home. And the tourists who normally fill the area aren't here. So it's kind of a very local crowd. The flip side of that is like I get to talk to all my customers," she said.

In addition to old favorites, Winter Village has some new offerings. Bryant Park Cafe has been converted into a curling cafe, where private groups can rent out lanes for 90 minutes at a time. They come with enclosed "igloos" for warming up between shots.

Igloos can also be rented separately. The insulated bubbles filled with comfortable seats and heaters are nothing new for Winter Village, but Vagianos said they’ve been more popular than ever this year, as New Yorkers grow accustomed to eating outside in all types of weather. 

"It's the holidays and people are getting together. That might be a reason why they're so popular right now — or people are looking for a warm place to eat outside," she said.

Holiday markets aren’t just a tradition in New York. Vienna, Austria is thought to have held the first holiday market in the late 1200s, The Guardian reported. They’ve proliferated across the globe ever since. Unfortunately, amid the COVID-19 pandemic many of those much-loved markets are canceled, but some innovative organizers, like Chicago’s popular Christkindlmarket, have pivoted their offerings online.

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