News / Toronto

Distillery Christmas market accuses big name companies of freeloading

Christmas Market organizers are unhappy that some global brands are sponging off Market patrons.

Hallmark's truck is parked outside the Distillery District's Christmas Market. Hallmark was giving away free hot chocolate and greeting cards.

Torstar News Service

Hallmark's truck is parked outside the Distillery District's Christmas Market. Hallmark was giving away free hot chocolate and greeting cards.

Along with hot chocolate and mulled wine, it seems discontent is also brewing at the Distillery District’s Christmas market.

Organizers say they are upset that some large retailers took advantage the big crowds heading for the festive spot by parking, for free, outside the market to promote their brands, instead of paying to be inside.

“They are capitalizing on our hard work, our marketing, our staff, and our idea,” said Mathew Rosenblatt, the executive producer of the Toronto Christmas Market.

“Is it illegal to do what they’ve done?” Rosenblatt asked. “No, it’s not illegal. But I don’t think it is overly ethical.”

On Sunday, Hallmark — which Rosenblatt said was invited to be a corporate sponsor, but declined — had a truck parked by Mill and Trinity Sts. They were giving out free hot chocolate and greeting cards, but the company’s director of marketing and business insight said they weren’t taking business away from the market.

“We weren’t selling anything, we were giving stuff away,” Hallmark’s Dan Bengert said. “If we hadn’t been there, we would’ve been somewhere else. They still wouldn’t have had any corporate sponsorship from us. Nobody did not go into the market because they sent a free greeting card. We didn’t take anything away. That’s his perspective. But it’s wrong.”

Rosenblatt also said Nordstrom’s, which has just opened two Toronto stores, also had a truck. The store had a hot cocoa truck out from Nov. 14 to 25, visiting a number of places around the city, and was at the Market on Nov. 18 and 25, said spokesman John Bailey.

“We’re sorry to hear that by being outside the Holiday Market, the organizers felt we were being opportunistic and trying to avoid sponsorship,” Bailey said. “That most definitely wasn’t our intent. We would have been glad to learn more about the event and look at options for a formal partnership or even possibly change our plans. We’re sorry for this misunderstanding.”

This is not the first time that corporate trucks have parked outside the market, Rosenblatt said. In the past it was local companies, mostly start-ups that couldn’t afford the sponsorship fee. But he said this is the first time that such big brands that “should know better and behave better” have done it, he said.

The historic area’s Christmas market has become incredibly popular. On Sunday evening, it was packed as mothers with strollers, fathers with children on their shoulders and couples holding hands squeezed through the crowds. This year’s market began Nov. 18 and runs to Dec. 22.

There are more than 40 sponsors listed on the Christmas Market’s website, and many of them have a presence inside the event. For example, visitors to the Campbell’s kiosk could sample soups, while Hershey’s was handing out their signature chocolate kisses.

“Just little moments of experience and little samples inside,” Rosenblatt said. “They’re both helping us to be able to offer this to the city, and at the same time they’re offering our customers something unique and special and a benefit to the overall experience.”

He said corporate sponsorship, which can range anywhere between $35,000 and $100,000, helps make the market possible and affordable. Rosenblatt added that the market is non-profit with proceeds from the current year going into setting up the market the following year, and any excess funds being donated to charity.

Bengert explained that the truck was part of a three-day event where Hallmark set up a “mobile pop-up” in different parts of the city, giving out free holiday cards.

“We didn’t feel that we needed to be inside the grounds,” he said.

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