In Washington, DC, Chinatown just in time for the holidays and surrounded by a rotating selection of vendors and performers, the F street holiday market brings together locals and visitors to experience fine art, crafts, jewelry, pottery, clothing, and specialty food items.
Naj Ajroud has been a vendor at the DC holiday market for three years. He sells handmade artisan home goods and fabrics, which are all made by a small group of artisans back in his home country of Tunisia. Ajroud sells textiles such as the Fouta (pronounced foo-tah), which is a piece of thin-patterned cotton or linen fabric used in many Mediterranean countries.
The Fouta is originally from Tunisia. However, in the last century the fabric has been widely popular throughout countries surrounding the Mediterranean. An interesting fact about this fabric is that with each wash it will become softer and more absorbent. Today, Fouta’s are widely used as beach, bath or spa towels, throws, blankets, wraps and shawls. Ajroud assured us that this fabric has multi – purpose usage. He stated that some people want pieces that are Eco-friendly and take up minimal space in your closet or luggage. Thus, Ajroud assured us the popularity of this fabric as a holiday gift.
Another product that keeps the costumers coming back to his stand at the holiday market is the home goods, which are made out of Olive Wood. The olive wood pieces are all hand carved by Tunisian artisans from the wood of centuries old olive trees.
According to the impact of the government policies and incentives to promote the export of agricultural products in Tunisia: case of olive oil the Tunisia olive tree is protected by government regulation.
Migue’s Minis is a true holiday market veteran. Of the 12 years the market has been alive, the mini donut stand has been around 11, but not always serving donuts. In fact, Miguel and Pedro Paredes said the donuts were just a successful accident.
“Originally we came into the market making crepes, but we had to fill in making mini donunts for one day bacause our crepe cart broke down. And everybody loved it,” Paredes said.
And everybody still loves it. It’s easy to find Miguel’s tent, because it has perhaps the longest consistent line at the market. The tent is set up on the corner of H street, directly across from the Gallery Place/ Chinatown metro.
You’ll find people lining H street, waiting to bathe their donuts in over ten powdered sugar flavors, including “Jamaican rum,” “piña colada,” and “winter spice.”
Throughout the remainder of the year, Paredes explained other markets are also a source of income. The donut tent sets up at the Baltimore farmers market beginning the first Sunday in April, all the way through the last Sunday before Christmas every year.
The holiday market located in front of the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum has been named one of the best markets according to Travel Magazine, and is going on its twelfth year of offering visitors a chance to get out of the hustle and bustle of the crowded malls.
The Market is around from mid – November through Christmas Eve and while visitors are mesmerized by the massive amount of activity one can’t help but wonder what life is like outside of the market for vendors.
The only trees that can be cut down and harvested must no longer bear fruit. Also, the trees that are cut down to produce wood must be replaced. Furthermore, the Olive wood naturally has intricate patterns embedded in the wood and swirls of color and patterns, which is why customers have raved about Ajroud home goods.
The items that can be seen and purchased using the olive wood at Ajroud stand include: ladles, section trays, heart – shaped dishes, keyhole cutting boards and spice jars. Ajroud said that his product could range in price anywhere from five to 300 hundred dollars.
At the market all of these items looked like the perfect gift to give someone during this holiday season and for many other occasions such as housing warming or anniversaries. When asked what his favorite thing about the market was he responded “each year he gets more customers due to returning customers telling their friends.” Ajroud found it wonderful to see familiar vendors each year, but also to be able to connect with new ones.
Wrapping up our interview with this Tunisian native, Naj Ajroud, we asked how he spent the rest of the year when he was not at the downtown holiday market. He stated, that throughout the year he has his products displayed at the local Washington, DC market, Eastern market.
This market is a landmark to many Washingtonians (Name for Washington, DC natives). Lastly, he said when he is not working at a market that he is working at Trader Joe’s, however in a cheerful way he said “the shop is his my baby.”
The mini’s have also made their way to Eastern market in the past. Paredes said though the donuts were not planned, his boss already had a curiosity for them and found potential in the tasty treat. A few years ago Migue’s Minis had the accidental opportunity to launch the mini’s at the Downtown Holiday Market, but prior to that, Miguel’s boss had long been crafting them and selling in other places.
“My partner loves to travel. He goes all over the world. He went over to the West coast and saw one of the markets making mini donuts there. And, he’s been in the business for 25 years,” Paredes said.
A tasty treat calls for a soothing drink, and of course, Migue’s isn’t behind. At the booth customers line up for hot chocolate, chai and coffee. The business also sells pounds of coffee roasted by a local friend here in DC.
The booth smells of sweet, warm donuts, but between treats and drinks, Miguel said the sales are equally divided. Customers come looking for both things, and he said the season helps with that.
“It’s the season,” he said. “It’s the cold days and then we have hot donuts and hot drinks. Its the perfect gift.”
Video by Natalie Hutchison
President of diverse market management Michael Berman said over 150 vendors rotate to fill the 60 spaces available at a time. Some are veteran vendors, but there are new faces every year. Berman said its good to have visual variety to spice things up, but the favorite vendors sticking around draws locals every year. You can probably get through the market in an hour, but why do that? From empanadas to hot chocolate with giant toasted marshmallows, its really a lot to digest.
Video by Afra Abdullah and Natalie Hutchison
Catch the downtown holiday market between now and December 23, any day of the week between noon and 8pm. If you've managed to avoid Black Friday, this may be the perfect balance between the holiday busyness, and a change of pace. The goods will vary daily, as vendors rotate setting up, so it is a place to go for multiple experiences. Find the market right next to the Verizon Center, at the Gallery Place/ Chinatown Metro stop.
The downtown market is featuring 53 different performers. Some of the genres include pop, ska, classic rock, and Latin jazz, which got this couple moving. You can find the full schedule of performers here.