Fitness, food, fun: Free programs have it all

During Sweat Fest, Andia Winslow and her ABSolutely class at Athleta reached to achieve their physical best.  Courtesy Union Square Partnership
During Sweat Fest, Andia Winslow and her ABSolutely class at Athleta reached to achieve their physical best. Courtesy Union Square Partnership

saluteUnion Square is known for its abundance of events, workshops and activities — and this year, there’s even more on the way.

With a variety of new and expanded programs in the works, 2015 is shaping up to be the square’s most active year in recent memory.

Earlier this year, in the throes of the city’s never-ending winter, the Union Square Partnership gave New Yorkers a reason to leave the house and work out at the first annual Sweat Fest. This weeklong health and fitness festival featured free exercise classes, complimentary gym membership packages, personal training sessions and deals at some of the area’s participating retailers. From Feb. 24 to March 2, more than 1,000 attendees explored Union Square’s wide array of studios, retailers and healthy eateries.

“Union Square is the epicenter of the city’s health-and-wellness scene, with its world-renowned Greenmarket, and more than 100 fitness studios and gyms, retailers with the best exercise and sports apparel and gear, and delicious eateries serving healthy meals and juices,” said Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership business improvement district. “We created Union Square Sweat Fest so that people could sample the area’s offerings at little or no cost.”

Participants enjoyed tremendous discounts at fitness retailers such as Bandier, Lululemon and Athleta. Studios such as Bo Law Kung Fu, Body Space Fitness, Crossfit NYC and Yoga Viva offered free class spots and trial passes. Sweat Fest-goers snapped photos, tweeted and posted on social media for the chance to win giveaways, like gym memberships and fitness gear.

“Motivating people to maintain a healthy lifestyle is a core mission of so many businesses in our neighborhood,” Falk said. “We’re looking forward to making Sweat Fest a signature event for Union Square.”

With warmer weather on the way, Summer in the Square kicks off in just a few weeks. The summer-long event series returns to the square this June, with a variety of children’s programs, fitness classes and free dance and music performances. Those who attended last year’s wildly popular children’s shows will be happy to hear that even more young people’s programs are coming this year. Events will be held on both Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the season, offering even more opportunities for people to catch a show or participate in a free class. And for film aficionados, Union Square Partnership is offering something new this year: two outdoor movie screenings.

The fun doesn’t end when the weather cools off — the square has a lot to offer through the fall months, as well. This September marks the 20th anniversary of Harvest in the Square, one of the city’s most highly anticipated culinary events. Chefs from the neighborhood’s hottest restaurants gather to prepare signature dishes, using fresh produce right from the Union Square Greenmarket, with all proceeds going toward maintaining Union Square Park.

“Harvest in the Square was one of the very first food festivals of its kind in New York City,” said Scott Hobbs, the Partnership’s deputy director. “It’s exciting to see how much the festival has grown since its inception, and this year, we’re anticipating our biggest event yet.”

For families spending time in the city, Union Square is the go-to location for kid-friendly activities. The Fall for All festival returns to the square’s north plaza in October, offering face painting, games, a corn maze and a pumpkin patch. At the start of the holiday season, Picture Perfect in Union Square provides professional holiday portraits taken in the pavilion, entertainment and refreshments provided by local eateries.

“There’s a lot going on at Union Square this year — and there really is something for everyone,” Falk said. “We’re looking forward to welcoming residents, newcomers and visitors from all over to enjoy our beautiful park and our vibrant community.”