Wonders of Church Street Marketplace Mall: Burlington, VT’s Hidden Treasure

Nestled in the heart of Burlington, VermontChurch Street Marketplace stands as a testament to innovative urban planning and community spirit.

Conceived in 1958, this bustling outdoor pedestrian mall came to fruition in 1980-81, designed by the renowned Carr, Lynch Associates of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Spanning four blocks of Church Street between Main and Pearl Streets, the Marketplace has evolved into a vibrant hub of activity, encompassing over 100 storefronts. It’s a shopping destination and a cultural hotspot hosting many events and festivals year-round.

Retail giants like Urban Outfitters and Lululemon blend seamlessly with local treasures such as Lake Champlain Chocolates and Frog Hollow Craft Association and Gallery, creating a unique shopping experience.

The American Planning Association recognized its significance, naming it one of America’s “Great Public Spaces” in 2008.

For visitors and locals alike, things to do in Burlington, VT, are often centered around the dynamic and diverse offerings of the Church Street Marketplace.

The Birth and Evolution of Church Street Marketplace

Early Concept and Development

The journey of Church Street Marketplace began in the late 1950s, with the initial concept emerging in 1958.

This idea was part of broader urban renewal discussions to revitalize Burlington’s downtown area. The idea took a tangible form in the summer of 1971 with a one-day experimental street fair on Church Street.

This event, attended by approximately 15,000 people, demonstrated the potential for a pedestrian mall in the heart of Burlington.

Encouraged by this success, local architects Bill Truex and Patrick Robins, president of the Downtown Burlington Development Association, spearheaded a second, week-long street fair in 1972.

This event further solidified the feasibility of the mall, drawing an estimated 50,000 visitors and showcasing the vibrant possibilities of a pedestrian-focused downtown.

Design and Construction

The design and construction phase of Church Street Marketplace spanned several years, marked by careful planning and community involvement.

In 1976, Burlington Square’s enclosed shopping mall, now known as Burlington Town Center, opened its doors on Church Street, anchored by a Macy’s department store.

This development was a precursor to the larger Marketplace project. After extensive debates and exploratory trips to other cities with successful pedestrian malls, a final design was approved.

The chosen design was a one-level street mall, which included resurfacing the street with brick, adding canopies and shelters, and closing the street to cars on the central blocks.

C. E. Maguire, Inc., of New Britain, Connecticut, oversaw the architectural and engineering work with Carr & Lynch Associates as architects.

The construction, which began on July 7, 1980, was completed in the fall of 1981, marking the official birth of Church Street Marketplace.

Architectural and Cultural Significance

Architectural Design and Features

Church Street Marketplace, designed by Carr & Lynch Associates, stands out for its pedestrian-friendly design and integration into Burlington’s urban fabric.

The Marketplace’s architecture emphasizes a harmonious historical and contemporary blend.

Key features include the brick-paved street, artistically designed canopies, and the thoughtful placement of benches and green spaces.

These elements create an inviting atmosphere encouraging strolls, shopping, and dining. The Marketplace’s design also facilitates easy access to adjacent buildings and streets, seamlessly connecting it to downtown.

Role in Burlington’s Culture

Beyond its architectural appeal, Church Street Marketplace has become a cultural cornerstone in Burlington. It is the venue for numerous festivals and events that draw locals and tourists.

Notable events include the South End Art Hop, which showcases local art and artists, and the vibrant festivals that animate the street with music, food, and entertainment.

These events contribute significantly to Burlington’s cultural tapestry, making the marketplace more than a shopping destination.

Historic Preservation and Recognition

The Marketplace’s significance extends to its role in historic preservation. It is largely coextensive with the Church Street Historic District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.

Several buildings on Church Street, including the iconic Masonic Temple and Richardson Place, are part of the Head of Church Street Historic District, highlighting the area’s historical importance.

This blend of history and modernity has earned the Marketplace recognition as one of America’s “Great Public Spaces,” a testament to its successful integration of commerce, culture, and community.

Retail and Commerce at Church Street Marketplace

Diverse Tenant Mix

Church Street Marketplace, as of 2024, hosts an impressive array of over 100 retail stores, blending national chains with local businesses.

The tenant mix includes well-known brands like Athleta, Banana Republic, and Urban Outfitters, alongside Vermont-based stores such as Lake Champlain Chocolates and the Catamount Store.

This eclectic mix not only caters to a wide range of shopping preferences but also adds to the unique character of the Marketplace.

Specialty stores like Frog Hollow Craft Association and Gallery and outdoor enthusiasts’ favorite, Outdoor Gear Exchange, contribute to the Marketplace’s distinct identity.

Impact on Local Commerce

The Marketplace has consistently maintained high occupancy rates, a testament to its success as a commercial hub.

Even during economic downturns, it has shown resilience, with occupancy often exceeding 90%. This stability indicates the Marketplace’s crucial role in Burlington’s economy, attracting locals and tourists alike.

The presence of flagship stores like L.L. Bean, which opened in 2014, further underscores the Marketplace’s status as a premier shopping destination in Vermont.

Unique Shopping Experiences

Shopping at Church Street Marketplace is more than a transaction; it’s an experience. Stores like Dear Lucy and Maven offer unique fashion finds, while places like Danforth Pewter and Zinnia showcase Vermont’s artisanal craftsmanship.

Seasonal events, such as the Sidewalk Sale, add to the allure, offering shoppers deals and discounts.

The Marketplace’s pedestrian-friendly design encourages leisurely shopping sprees, making it a favorite spot for window shoppers and serious buyers.

Dining at Church Street Marketplace

Wide Range of Culinary Offerings

The dining scene at Church Street Marketplace is as diverse as its retail. Over 30 restaurants cater to a variety of tastes and preferences.

From the casual ambiance of Ken’s Pizza and Pub to the fine dining experience at E.B. Strong’s Prime Steakhouse, there’s something for every palate.

International flavors are well-represented, with establishments like Asiana Noodle Shop and Ri Ra Irish Pub & Restaurant offering global cuisine.

Ben & Jerry’s and Lake Champlain Chocolates provide delightful dessert options for sweet tooth lovers.

Role in Burlington’s Food Culture

These dining establishments are not just places to eat but are integral to Burlington’s vibrant food culture.

Many of these restaurants, like Leunig’s Bistro, have become landmarks in their own right, drawing diners from across the region.

The Marketplace’s outdoor dining options, particularly popular in the summer, add to the lively atmosphere, making it a go-to destination for locals and tourists seeking a unique culinary experience.

Culinary Events and Festivities

The Marketplace is also a stage for culinary events celebrating Burlington’s rich food heritage.

Annual events like food festivals and farmer’s markets unite local producers, chefs, and food enthusiasts, turning the Marketplace into a gastronomic haven.

These events showcase the best of Vermont’s local produce and foster community among residents and visitors alike.

Services and Amenities at Church Street Marketplace

Comprehensive Service Offerings

Church Street Marketplace is a hub for retail and dining and offers various services catering to different needs.

The Marketplace is a one-stop destination for wellness and beauty to artistic and cultural services.

Notable service providers include the Burlington City Arts Center, which offers a space for art exhibitions and cultural events, and the Frog Hollow Craft Association and Gallery, which showcases Vermont’s rich artisanal heritage.

Establishments like Cynthea’s Spa and Jivana Green Spa and Salon provide relaxation and rejuvenation options for personal care.

Enhancing the Shopping Experience

The presence of these services enhances the overall experience of visitors to the Marketplace.

The Optical Center offers eyewear solutions, while Silver Threads Tailoring addresses clothing alterations. For those seeking a unique experience, Onyx Ink Studio provides tattoo services.

These businesses add layers to the Marketplace’s offerings, ensuring visitors can find various services within the same pedestrian-friendly area.

Community-Centric Services

The Marketplace also hosts services that cater to the community’s needs. Yoga Vermont and SoulShine Power Yoga offer wellness and fitness options, contributing to the health and well-being of the community.

Including these service-oriented businesses reflects the Marketplace’s commitment to providing a holistic experience beyond shopping and dining.

Annual Events and Festivities at Church Street Marketplace

Calendar of Cultural Events

Church Street Marketplace is a vibrant center for year-round events and festivities. The Marketplace calendar is packed with cultural, artistic, and community events that cater to a wide audience.

Annual events like the Discover Jazz Festival transform the Marketplace into a musical haven, attracting jazz enthusiasts from all over.

The Festival of Fools, a celebration of street theater and comedy, brings laughter and entertainment to the streets, showcasing international performers.

Seasonal Celebrations and Festivities

The Marketplace also hosts seasonal celebrations that the community eagerly anticipates.

The holiday season sees the Marketplace adorned with lights and decorations, creating a festive atmosphere with events like the Tree Lighting ceremony and Holidays on the Marketplace.

In the summer, the Sidewalk Sale offers shoppers great deals, while the Vermont City Marathon in May brings together athletes and spectators in a display of endurance and community spirit.

Community Engagement and Diversity

Events at the Marketplace also focus on community engagement and diversity. The Juneteenth celebration, commemorating Black liberation in the U.S., features musical performances, art installations, and educational programming.

The Pride Parade, a colorful and inclusive event, celebrates Vermont’s LGBTQ community.

These events provide entertainment and foster community and inclusivity, making the Marketplace a true representation of Burlington’s diverse and vibrant culture.

The Enduring Appeal of Church Street Marketplace

A Model of Urban Success

Church Street Marketplace is a shining example of successful urban planning and community development.

Its blend of retail, dining, services, and cultural events creates a vibrant and dynamic environment that appeals to residents and visitors.

The Marketplace’s ability to adapt and evolve while maintaining its unique character is a testament to its enduring appeal.

Cultural and Economic Impact

The Marketplace has significantly contributed to Burlington’s cultural and economic vitality. It has become a focal point for community gatherings, celebrations, and expressions of the city’s diverse culture.

Economically, it continues to be a major draw for tourists and a cornerstone for local businesses, playing a crucial role in the city’s overall prosperity.

Looking to the Future

As Church Street Marketplace moves forward, it promises continued innovation and growth.

Its ability to balance historic preservation with modern demands and its commitment to community and diversity positions it well for future success.

The Marketplace is not just a shopping destination; it’s a living, breathing part of Burlington’s identity, poised to thrive and inspire for years to come.

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