While the holiday season has various meanings to people of different backgrounds, religious beliefs and cultural traditions, I think there is one thing everyone can agree upon: It is a time to remember, gather with, and show love to our families.
On any given Friday or Saturday evening throughout the year, the AMC Walkway of Downtown Burbank takes on a different vibe as the Downtown Burbank Cultural Market is presented by the husband-and-wife team of coordinator Hilda Avanessian and operations manager Harry Kevorkian of the family-owned HyeNoor Company.
During December that vibe transcends into more family-oriented and festive as people of all ages peruse and purchase the goods and services offered at the vendor booths that festoon the pedestrian path from San Fernando Boulevard down to the AMC 16 Theatres box office.
From bundled-up babies in strollers and cuddling young couples to those who have accrued an abundance of holiday memories, the feeling of family doesn’t just exist on one side of the booths, it’s also present on the other.
“We feel like we’re a family operation, because our vendors are like family to us,” said Kevorkian over the din of the bustling activity of last Saturday’s market. “Their success is the most important thing to us and when we come together it truly is like a gathering of family members.”
Among the 25-plus vendors who participate in the market are the Khoy family — husband and wife Kai and Srey, and their son Paul — who operate Skai Coffee Co., which offers hot and cold coffees, lattes, cappuccinos and espressos.
A few steps away, you’ll find Kandice Astamendi, whose wares consist of jewelry that can be customized from Origami Owl, a family-owned company that was founded by 14-year-old Isabella Weems. The teenager started the business with $350 she saved from babysitting.
“Hilda and Harry are too good to us,” said Astamendi, whose own family has been involved with the Burbank Road Kings for three generations. “They make us feel like we’re a big family.”
Across from Origami Owl, actress Shannon Chappell’s company, Scentual Soothers, has a line of enchanting candles, including “Joyful” and “Peaceful,” which represent Christmas, and “Hopeful” representing the New Year.
“I thank God for this business, which got me through the rough times of the strike,” said Chappell, who has appeared in numerous shows including “Grey’s Anatomy” and “General Hospital.”
Among the other vendors are newlyweds Eric and Sandra Munguia, who bring pop culture to the market with an extensive line of collectible Funko Pop! figurines depicting characters from Marvel, DC, Disney, “Star Wars,” “Scooby-Doo” and many other entertainment entities.
On Nov. 25, vendors were visited by a special shopper, Jamie Keyser Thomas, who is the CEO of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce.
“This cultural market has been a game-changer for generating foot traffic in the downtown area,” said Keyser Thomas. “What Hilda and Harry have created draws people who are curious or who are looking for a unique gift they would not find anywhere else.”
Along with telling vendors about a special program the chamber has started especially for small business membership, Keyser Thomas also did her share of shopping.
“I’ve got to go,” she said as she got a whiff of The Hot Dog Guy, Jesus Rivas’ special recipe of grilled offerings. “I try not to eat them often, but sometimes I just have to give in, because I love a good street dog,” she added with a laugh.
In what clearly is a family of merchants, one of the most interesting members is Isabella Phillips of California Spiritual Wellness, who does tarot card and psychic readings.
A longtime Burbanker with roots in New Orleans, Phillips comes from a family with a multigenerational history of members possessing psychic and spiritual gifts they have used to help people with their lives, love connections, careers, businesses and families.
Realizing her abilities at age 4, Phillips, who attended the Berkeley Psychic Institute and has earned a master’s degree in spiritual guidance, has guided people all over the world as a psychic coach.
“It is amazing to be a part of this market,” Phillips said. “We all consider Harry and Hilda to be a part of our family. They have done so much for the small businesses in Burbank. They have a deep personal care about all of us and want us to do well.”
Operating cultural markets in Pasadena and Glendale as well as Burbank, with more than 182 vendors on their waiting list, Avanessian and Kevorkian donate a percentage of their proceeds to local charities. In Burbank, they have selected the Home Again Los Angeles program as their beneficiary.
“We make financial donations to them throughout the year, and during the holiday season we coordinate a toy drive for children involved with their program,” Avanessian said.
If you drop off an unwrapped toy at the cultural market between now and Dec. 23, you will be entered in a raffle for $200, tickets to Flappers Comedy Club or the AMC 16 Theatres.
The Downtown Burbank Cultural Market is located at 125 E. Palm Ave. The market is open every Friday and Saturday night from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. For more information, follow HyeNoor on Instagram or DowntownBurbankCulturalMarket on Facebook.
DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.
First published in the December 2 print issue of the Burbank Leader.