By Jimmy Dula, NFU Intern
Nestled next to Basalt Town Hall, with access to main street shops and eateries, the Sunday Market in Basalt, Colorado is an economic driver for our rural mountain town. To the credit of previous market managers and board members, the 40-plus vendor market is the social occasion of the summer, lasting 16 weeks from June through September. The market provides a place to see neighbors, listen to live music, and prospect for your next few meals.
Organizing the Basalt Sunday Market is easily the most exciting thing I do all summer. I first took the position of market manager to learn more about growing markets for local food while simultaneously creating new producers. Through my experience as market manager, I have gained a better understanding of how to do this and so much more. I’ve outlined below five major factors that, in my opinion, have contributed the most to the success of the market.
Music is, by far, the largest cost of the market, but perhaps the most necessary. Shopping is highly psychological. Consumers are constantly bombarded with ads and incentives that encourage a trip to the store or an impulse purchase of gum at the counter. It is no different at the farmers market. People will spend more money when they feel comfortable. A live band is disarming and a major draw to boot. The music creates an atmosphere that makes shopping no longer a chore but an enjoyable experience.
A variety of prepared food vendors will draw shoppers to your market and keep them spending money there. Hot food is a hot commodity – when I’m running around the market, adding a tent weight here or getting duct tape for a vendor over there, I often overhear shoppers asking where to get the brick oven pizza or the cinnamon rolls others are eating. Prepared food vendors vitalize the market and satisfy hungry customers, keeping them from leaving the market to find sustenance elsewhere. At the ends of the market, we place big, visible prepared food vendors such as a mobile pizza oven and a trailer BBQ pit, which draws more visitors to the market and maintains the energy at each end.
We have been very fortunate to have a variety of entertainment suitable for kids and families. In addition to the music, the local art education center hosts crafts stations for kids near the bounce houses. Giant bubble wands and sidewalk chalk can entertain kids for hours. A kid-friendly market keeps the parents happy and encourages them to come back every week.
When people describe the market, the adjective I hear most is “intimate.” Every vendor contributes something different and unique to the market’s ambiance. Vendors are set up to condense customers to one main aisle, which makes the market feel smaller and busier. When vendors notify us they are not going to make a market, we are sure to fill gaps to maintain that feeling. What determines the market’s energy most, though, is the placement of musical performances. Although there is a stage at a nearby park, the market board decided that the music should be centrally located and audible from both ends of the market. If you feel one end of the market doesn’t have the energy you’re looking for, try new things, move people around, and find new vendors that will complement those you already have.
Above all, communicate with your vendors. I constantly ask how their day went, if they’re reaching their sales goals, and how we can help make their market experience better. Be open to new solutions and input, but take it all with a grain of salt. It can be difficult to satisfy the specific asks of so many vendors, but there can always be a creative solution if you have a solid understanding of your surroundings, your vendors, and their goals.