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Is ‘Boston Winter’ the best thing to happen to City Hall Plaza?

Skaters filled the ice at "Boston Winter" at City Hall Plaza earlier this week.
Skaters filled the ice at "Boston Winter" at City Hall Plaza earlier this week.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Patrons bundled in scarves and sweaters swamped the lines inside the holiday village, while children swished around a giant ice skating loop.

Could this be the once-barren City Hall Plaza that has confounded mayors for decades?

Displayed across that broad expanse of red bricks, the “Boston Winter” village has emerged as a hit this holiday season, organizers say, attracting thousands of visitors, including some who can’t help but compare it to similar attractions in New York and Europe.

“It’s about time we have something like this,’’ said Kara Levy, a 26-year-old visitor to the village. “I’ve definitely never seen anything like this at City Hall, only in Europe.”

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The urban plaza, conceived as a gathering spot for festive occasions, has been the bane of previous mayors who struggled to invigorate it. Former mayor Thomas M. Menino, weary of looking out at “the city’s living room,” once launched a contest for ideas on how to enliven it, but the reinvention never materialized.

Now, the early praise of “Boston Winter” since its opening Dec. 7 offers bragging rights to Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration.

“I know that thousands and thousands of people have gone by there. They love it,’’ Walsh said Tuesday during the Globe’s Political Happy Hour interview. “They love the idea of bringing life to the plaza. I’ve heard nothing but compliments.”

Brandon Comeau, 10, of Rockland, pedaled a stationary bike to light a Christmas tree.
Brandon Comeau, 10, of Rockland, pedaled a stationary bike to light a Christmas tree.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

The white-draped holiday village opened five days after unseasonably warm weather delayed its planned debut. Two weeks since its grand opening, the village has attracted 5,000 weekday and 15,000 weekend visitors on average, said Tricia McCorkle, spokeswoman for Boston Garden Development Corp. — a subsidiary of Delaware North Cos. — which won the three-year contract with the city for the plaza’s revival.

To track the number of visitors, McCorkle said, a general manager conducts a manual count of people walking through the main entrance for 30 minutes every other hour.

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The visitors’ tally is conservative, she added, because on some weekends more than 20,000 people come through the village.

A Globe count showed nearly 900 people heading into the main entrance over 30 minutes on Wednesday evening.

Given the busy holiday schedule, school vacation week, and holiday market trends next week, McCorkle said officials are projecting they will reach a target of 250,000 visitors by Jan. 1. “We have a steady stream of revelers,” she said. “We expect really high numbers down there.”

Lena Romanova, founder of Millennial Exhibitions, which operates the holiday shopping market, added that her company is estimating 350,000 visitors by the end of December.

“Obviously for the first year it is quite exceptional,’’ Romanova said.

Thomas Hillgrove, president of Rink Management Services, which operates the nearly 11,000-square-foot loop, said he did not have a tally of the number of skaters and rentals. But he said he has been getting unofficial reports on skaters, and so far the Boston path’s performance is in the top “two to three” of the company’s system of nearly two dozen outdoor rinks.

“I’m delighted at how well things are going,’’ said Hillgrove, whose company bills itself as the largest operator of skating facilities in the United States.

The news is also good at The Grommet, the biggest chalet store in the holiday market. The Somerville-based company sells products and gifts from around the world, and an official there said sales are swell at the plaza site.

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Charles McEnerney, director of communications, said the company has sold over 3,000 units of about 30 different products. The top seller: PUDUS slipper socks.

“It’s been successful for us so far,’’ McEnerney said. “This is something different, using City Hall [Plaza] in a pretty creative way. It’s laid out well.”

Vendors, like Baxter Shea of Brothers Artisan Oil, said sales are robust. Shea, a co-owner, said sales for the Charlestown-based business have been soaring on the weekends. By the shop’s second week, Shea said, it broke even with the $4,000 monthly chalet rental.

“As soon as we open the doors, it’s a sale every 10 minutes,” Shea, 26, of Brookline said.

It’s unclear whether the number of visitors is materializing into high ticket sales. Neither Boston Garden Development Corp. nor Millennial Exhibitions produced sales figures.

McCorkle said Boston Garden Development Corp. is under contract to provide an audit on sales to the city, but the company would not disclose any financial figures, including ticket sales, at this time.

Visitors passed the “chalets” at City Hall Plaza.
Visitors passed the “chalets” at City Hall Plaza. Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe

Boston officials said the village won’t cost the city any money. Delaware North will pay the city a cut of the sales, expected to be at least $50,000, in exchange for use of the plaza. Boston Winter is sponsored by Berkshire Bank. The city also receives a percentage of revenue from sponsorships.

“Boston Winter Presented by Berkshire Bank” opens for 10 to 11 hours on various days, and it is free to enter — although there are ticketed events, including the skating loop and wine- and chocolate-tasting chalets.

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The holiday shopping market is expected to stay open through the end of the month. The skating path and a few other food and beverage vendors will stay until the end of February.

For now, patrons like Antonio Conde are coming to savor the moment.

“We don’t have anything like this in our country,’’ said Conde, who was visiting Boston from Bogota. “The people, the lights, all the things are beautiful.”

Lisa Wang, a 23-year-old city resident, waited in line for her skates, happy for the reprieve.

“I think it’s great,’’ she said. “I’m from the area, and it’s been a while since we’ve had something this festive.”

Delainy Delagnes, 16, of San Francisco, showed off her skating ability.
Delainy Delagnes, 16, of San Francisco, showed off her skating ability.Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe/Globe Staff

Globe correspondents Samantha Gross and Olivia Quintana contributed to this report. Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@
globe.com
.