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Bobby Flay headlining this year’s Mistletoe Marketplace

One of Mississippi’s largest charitable fundraising events also has a very large impact on the metro economy. Mistletoe Marketplace seems to usher in the holidays, and for restaurants and hotels in the Jackson area, the gift is a big one.

The three-day marketplace, presented by the Junior League of Jackson, includes an array of special events, dining opportunities, live entertainment and cooking demonstrations from the Junior League’s nationally recognized cookbooks. Shoppers from across the Southeast will converge on the Mississippi Trademart November 8-10 to enjoy more than 165 merchants from across the United States offering unique gifts and holiday trends in a festive, family-friendly atmosphere.

“We’re working very closely with the Junior League of Jackson to get the most accurate numbers,” said Mara Hartmann, marketing director for the Jackson Convention and Visitors’ Bureau (JCVB). “The estimated economic impact of the 2006 Mistletoe Marketplace was $3.2 million, based on a figure of 35,000 attendees for the event. However, we always say that our numbers are very conservative. Just when you think Mistletoe is as big as it can get, they add more covered areas adjacent to the Trade Mart and more ancillary events. If I’m not mistaken, I believe some of the events are already sold out for this year.”

Hartmann said the numbers have stayed steady, but they expect large increases this year. “Bringing in celebrity chef Bobby Flay should be a huge draw, and this year, the American Bus Association has named Mistletoe Marketplace one of the top 100 events in North America. That’s huge, since they are the voice of the motor coach industry. That list is what tour planners refer to when they start putting together bus tours.”

Hartmann said the event has often been one of the top 20 events in the southeast, as named by the Southeast Tourism Association. “We are all anxious to see how that plays out. The great thing about this event is that is fits the JCVB mission perfectly. We work to cause a positive economic impact by drawing visitors from outside the market. Mistletoe has been successful in doing just that for many years now.”

Leslie Morton does publicity for Mistletoe Marketplace, and she believes that having Bobby Flay will be a huge draw. “This is the first time we’ve attempted to fill the Coliseum on Friday night. We love the Trademart, but we’ve grown so big we keep having to add tents outside.”

Morton said Mistletoe Marketplace will be advertised in magazines in three different states. “The ads will run in addition to our regular advertising venues, and those ads are just now hitting. We’re hoping that Bobby Flay will bring some coverage by the Food Channel and Comcast. Because of that Friday night event with Flay, we think people will come for that, stay the night, and shop at the market the next day.”

Morton also pointed out that Mistletoe Marketplace has become very man-friendly. “If a man comes in with his credit card to do some Christmas shopping, he’ll have a dozen women helping him. You won’t find that anywhere else. Plus, our Blues, Brew and Barbeque event is very man-oriented. Instead of a haughty wine tasting, we’ll have brew masters who will pair different brews with different foods. And of course, there’s Bobby Flay, who is a real man’s chef.”

Tina Smith, manager of group sales for the Marriott Downtown Jackson, said that Mistletoe Marketplace doesn’t cause a huge increase in room sales, but with the new “Top 100 Event” designation, that may change in the future. “Right now, most of the people coming to Mistletoe Marketplace from out of town seem to be coming in for the day. We do have some private room sales, but we expect that to increase over the next few years.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer S.J. Anderson at andersonwrites@yahoo.com .

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