It's an intriguing place, Orlando's new Artegon Marketplace, and I hope it works. For now, the artisan-oriented destination area looks promising but iffy. The massive mall, as it develops, will be circled with huge business like the existing Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, mammoth restaurants like Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill, and cavernous experiential areas such as, if I'm reading the website correctly, a Sky Zone indoor trampoline park.
I went to explore The Village, an area of Artegon Marketplace that has already taken up residence in the center of the former Festival Bay shopping plaza. The Village is described in marketing materials as "a community of 165 artisanal shops and stores."
First, we had trouble figuring out where to enter. As it turns out, the mall has a big ARTEGON sign at the main entrance, but that sign is set back far from the labyrinthine parking lot. We found no other signs directing us to that area. I assume signage will improve soon, as the 1.1-million-square-foot destination just opened in November.
I arrived on the Sunday following Thanksgiving just before noon, figuring the place would be bustling with curious locals and productive holiday shoppers. Not so much. At 11:50, few of the artisans' stalls were open. We were practically the only shoppers, although more wandered in over the next two hours.
What's more, many of the booths near the Artegon Marketplace entrance are empty, giving the place a sad, barren feel. That's deceiving, as dozens of retailers throughout the space sell all kinds of items, from high-end artsy chandeliers to junky Thing 2 T-shirts. Most of the merchandise falls between the two--handmade but not thrilling. I expect it will sell well to budget-minded visitors from small Midwestern towns who can't scratch their shopping itch at local farmers markets and craft shows.
It may take months, if not years, to fill these cleverly transparent cubes and refill them as artisans change over. Still, even with multiple vacancies, Artegon Marketplace stocks plenty of tempting products. Following are photos of my favorites, in no particular order.
Between the empty spaces, which I showed you, and the tourist trinkets, which I didn't, Artegon Marketplace has a varied and, in some cases, compelling, inventory. Hopefully, now that it's open more artisans will take up residence, creating and displaying their wares beside their peers.
I'm curious to see how Artegon Marketplace shakes out. Will craft-seekers find their way to the restaurants and large retailers, or will diners and shoppers meander inside and walk away with crafts? Which is the draw, which will live off the crumbs? Here's to hoping that the giant and the petit form a symbiotic relationship and both kinds of business thrive. If not, the former Festival Bay may one day have a third name and concept.
Eat, shop, and rope-climb enthusiastically,