After a year of virtual shopping, pages-long Amazon carts, and anxiously checking Ring notifications for delivered packages, in-person shopping is coming back. Yes, the Houston Ballet's Spring Nutcracker Market is returning after cancelling its event last April and moving the November market online because of Covid-19.  

From April 16 to 18, Houstonians can once again meander through the halls of NRG in search of summer necessities (like beach accessories, obviously), graduation gifts, and wedding presents for all the couples who postponed their ceremonies in 2020.  And while some things will be different, much of the market will be what shoppers have grown to love since the spring event debuted in 2019.

For example, Nutcracker classics like The Round Top Collection, Pony Pal Stable, and The Pajama Princess will all be returning. And while the spring event is usually smaller than the November market, there are 150 vendors on this year’s roster, including newbies like C. Shel Shop, Ettiene Market, and Jadelynn Brooke.

“We cannot overstate how excited we are to return to NRG Center and bring back an in-person Market for our merchants and shoppers,” said Patsy Chapman, CEO of the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market. “We have carefully and thoughtfully prepared our plan for in-person shopping with recommendations from local and national experts on reopening protocols.”

The market will be taking safety precautions, seeing as the pandemic is still lingering (like that credit card bill from your last online shopping spree). As you probably guessed, face masks will be required for anyone (age 2 and up) indoors or outdoors at the market. You’ll also go through a health screening—i.e., a temperature check—before entering the hall.

Speaking of halls, instead of the typical two, this year’s market is spreading out through four halls to assure ample room for social distancing. There will be greater distances between the booths, and aisles will be 24 feet wide. If this isn't enough to stymie your post-2020 fear of crowds, then rest assured—NRG capacity is 6,500 shoppers, and market staff will be monitoring how many people are entering and exiting the halls at all times. Plus, almost all transactions will be touchless, the halls will be cleaned throughout the day, and hand-sanitizing stations will be available.

“By design, we spread out the layout of the event as much as we can to create a socially distant shopping experience where everyone feels comfortable and safe,” Chapman said. “For example, our aisles will be double the size of the average grocery store aisle.”

Additionally, everyone must have a ticket before they arrive at NRG—there will be no onsite ticket sales, and sadly, no early-bird admission. Stop by an H-E-B business center for an $18 general admission ticket (they’re $20 on ticketmaster.com) beginning March 22. Also, no strollers, wagons, or rolling bags will be allowed inside. Of course, walkers and wheelchairs can be used as necessary.

And for the folks who miss sipping mimosas while shopping, don’t fret. There will still be concessions, albeit more limited than in years past. Keep up with all the health and safety guidelines here.

As always, ticket proceeds and 10 percent of merchandise sales will go toward the Houston Ballet Foundation and its Academy and scholarship programs.

“Many aspects of the Market will look a little different,” said Chapman, “but ultimately, the experience of shopping for a great cause is still at the heart of this event.”

9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Apr 16, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 17–18. $18. NRG. More information here.

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