When you walk into the Chi Omega Christmas Market, take a moment to look around Fair Park’s Automobile Building. Market co-chair Karen Dower would like you to listen to the holiday music. Get a good look at the 200-odd merchant booths and absorb the Christmas atmosphere. ‘Tis the season, suddenly.
Now in its 45th year, the annual holiday shopping bazaar is run by Chi Omega sorority alumni and active members. It began in 1977 with only 50 merchant booths at the old Dallas Convention Center. “We did it to give back to the community,” Dower says. “And that is the sole reason we do a Christmas market.” That year, they raised just over $13,000 to donate to local charities.
Almost half a century later, the market has donated more than $9.6 million to 136 local beneficiaries, raising more than $500,000 in 2021. The market moved to Fair Park and now hosts hundreds of merchants from across the U.S. Organizers expect around 11,000 visitors in 2022. And the event is back fully in-person after pandemic-induced pivots to all-virtual and hybrid formats in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
“We found everyone just wanted to be together so much ’21,” Dower says. So, the steering committee opted to have the entire 3.5-day event in person. “This year, we just decided it’s full steam ahead.”
This year’s market opens Wednesday, November 16, with what it calls the Premiere Shopping Night. The evening will introduce VIP patrons and the “deserving dozen” beneficiary charities, which include Dallas CASA, Exodus Ministries, and Make-A-Wish North Texas. Additionally, market organizers will honor past chairs and ask “everyone to raise a glass and have a toast with us,” Dower says, “to toast the 45 years.” There will be early-entry shopping Thursday morning, then the market will open to general admission that afternoon through Saturday.
The 2022 Chi Omega Market will include 208 merchant booths. Many of the old standards are returning for another year, Dower says, like Lloyd Waxman Menswear, Sweetie’s Cheesecakes, and Treasures of the Ozarks.
“We have had Treasures of the Ozarks for more years than I can ever remember,” she says.
But, more than 40 percent of this year’s booths are new finds, including Imani Collective and Shiloh Style. Dower says they start recruiting merchants in January. They’ll reach out to the previous year’s booths, but they’ll also recruit merchants they’ve found on social media, at other holiday markets, and in shops. “We may walk into a darling store and say, ‘have you ever thought about …?’ and give them a card,” Dower says.
In addition to the new booths, the market has several new features Dower is excited for. The first is a package check service. If you buy something you cannot carry yourself at the event, just take it to package check, then pull your car around “and somebody will help you get out to your car with it.” Additionally, a benefactor donated nearly 1,000 owls (Chi Omega’s symbol) to sell at their Ye Olde Wise Owl Shoppe. “No live owls,” she says. “Just an amazing amount of all different types of owls,” like pillows, figurines, light up owls, art pieces, and jewelry. The final feature isn’t actually new: a mother’s room where women can nurse or settle restless children. “It was there last year, but I think it’s special,” Dower says.
With so much going on, it’s easy to walk in and wonder, “wow, how am I going to do this?” Dower says. So, we asked her for her best tips to have a perfect shopping day at the market. Here’s what she had to say.
How to Have a Perfect Day
Buy your ticket ahead of time.
General admission costs $20, Thursday’s early entry is $35, and a spot at the Wednesday party is $125. So that you’re ready to go, buy your tickets online before you arrive. You can also buy general admission tickets at local Tom Thumb grocery stores.
Dress in comfy clothes and bring a map.
It’s going to be a long day. Wear something comfortable (especially shoes) “because you have so much to see,” Dower says. Additionally, the hall is big, so grab a map to locate your favorite stops.
Go row by row.
Dower says she always shops the market row by row, so she doesn’t miss anything. Stop to taste everything and don’t skip a shop. “Take a look in every booth because you never know what special item you find that is perfect for someone,” she says.
Take a break.
It’s a long day, so remember to take a break. You can listen to Christmas music while sitting at one of the tables. Hungry? You can grab something to eat at one of the food trucks outside.