In 1976, the Council on the Environment of New York City established the Greenmarket program, which provided regional small family farmers with opportunities to sell their fruits, vegetables and other farm products at open-air markets in the city. The most famous is the Union Square Greenmarket, held Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays between 8 AM and 6 PM year round. 250,000 customers a week purchase 1,000 varieties of fruits and vegetables at the market. The variety of produce available is broader by perhaps a factor of ten than what is found in a conventional supermarket.
Union Square is also known for the Union Square Holiday Market, which is held November 23 through December 24. Temporary kiosks are filled by over 100 artisans, who sell items ranging from candles and perfume to knitted scarves and high-end jewelry.
Union Square is a popular meeting place, given its central location in Manhattan and its many subway lines. There are many bars and restaurants on the periphery of the square, and the surrounding streets have some of the city's most renowned (and expensive) restaurants. S. Klein's department store promoted itself in the middle 20th century as an "On the Square" alternative to higher prices uptown, and late in the century several big-box chain stores established a presence, including Barnes & Noble, Babies "R" Us, Staples and Circuit City. In addition, the W Union Square Hotel opened at the park's northeast corner, in the landmark building that formerly housed the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.