NIAGARA FALLS -- Tourists are expected to make their way to Niagara Falls this weekend, and for once, the famous cataracts are only a secondary attraction.
They'll be coming to the heart of downtown to experience the Niagara Holiday Market, a 36-day European-style festival aimed at attracting travelers and residents with regional and national foods, specialty crafts and a winter concert series. The festival kicks off at noon Friday on Old Falls Street.
"It’s the ultimate winter wonderland," developer Mark Rivers said as saw blades buzzed around him Wednesday afternoon on Old Falls Street. "We hope we can create a family destination for the holidays. Thirty-seven days of great shopping, fun entertainment, a great ice skating rink."
Rivers said the festival will be "very European, almost Disney-esque" with its custom vendor booths, rooftop lighting and cobblestone streets. They've been using the festival at right as a guide.
Rivers, an Idaho developer and Ellicottville native, said the market is not your typical food festival. There will be no carnival rides when the show kicks off at noon Friday.
"We're trying to be a little bit more discerning and have something that’s unique and special," Rivers said. "Taken all together, it can be an attraction unto itself. It should be exciting, different and fun."
More than 50 vendors will line up along Old Falls Street each day from Friday to New Year's Day. An eclectic mix of regional and national craft vendors -- from Elmwood Avenue to San Francisco -- will create what Rivers calls the "anti-mall."
Workers were busy Wednesday afternoon constructing and outfitting vendor booths (left) between the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel and Niagara Falls State Park. Skaters can lace up at the public ice skating rink, which will feature activities with Sabres great Gilbert Perreault on Dec. 21.
"We wanted to draw people down here," said the state's USA Niagara Development president Chris Schoepflin. "Most of what we usually put on are one- or two-day events. What Mark brought us is much broader, much more conceptual. These are big companies. I couldn't think of a better way to bring them here in one place."
The Canadian Tenors will kick off the market's concert series at 7 p.m. Saturday, and a Rockefeller Center-style tree-lighting ceremony will be held 5 p.m. Monday on Old Falls Street.
-News Niagara Reporter Charlie Specht