Local vendors backing a public market on Madison’s east side aren’t waiting around for the city to move forward.
MadCity Bazaar — which last year staged three “pop-up” flea markets — is planning a regular five-month schedule at the Fiore Shopping Center at East Washington Avenue and First Street.
The market would run both Saturday and Sunday on the first and third weekends of the month from May through September. Space for up to 50 vendors would be provided by MadCity Bazaar, which would charge from $25 to $50 to rent a slot.
“We’re trying to keep the barriers to entry as low as possible,” says organizer Meghan Blake-Horst, the former owner of the now closed Absolutely Art gallery on Atwood Avenue.
Blake-Horst thinks the twice-a-month weekend format should provide a no-risk test of the First Street/East Wash location, which was recommended last year by a city consultant as the most financially viable spot for a permanent public market.
“At the very least, we’ll get the down and dirty on how much interest there is,” she says.
MadCity Bazaar is also coordinating with the food cart group Let’s Eat Out, which has scheduled three concerts at Burr Jones Park in June and July, along with the Fall Food Cart Festival on Sept. 27.
East side Ald. Larry Palm, whose district includes the proposed market site, is an enthusiastic booster of the concept.
“I know there has been a lot of concern about where a public market might be located but they are really plunging themselves into the city effort,” he says.
Organizers need a permit to hold events at Burr Jones Park and Palm is going to support use of the public space when it comes before the City Council later this winter.
MadCity Bazaar is also working with the new owners of the Fiore Shopping Center on a lease arrangement to use the front portion of their surface parking lot.
The shopping center was purchased in December 2013 by Todd Waller and Steve Doran, who say they are interested in working with the city as the public market concept moves forward. One plan calls for the city to convert its fleet services building next to the shopping center into a public market facility.
A commercial real estate broker, Waller likes the MadCity Bazaar idea.
“I think it’s great what they are doing,” he says. “They can get some good feelers out there on how it all might work.”
But Waller also wants to hear how the shopping center might be integrated into a permanent city public market. Parking is one issue that has already surfaced in initial conversations.
“There is going to be a huge parking demand there,” he predicts. “So we’ll need to work with the public market so they aren’t taking parking away from our tenants.”
Blake-Horst says a website with vendor information will go live on Jan. 15. Until then, information is available on the MadCity Bazaar Facebook page.
One MadCity Bazaar market held last year behind the Chamber of Commerce building at 615 E. Washington Ave. drew about 20 vendors selling everything from artwork and jewelry to vintage clothing and antiques. But Blake-Horst says the more visible location and the media buzz around the public market siting debate should help generate more interest this summer.
One vendor already in the mix is Off the Block Salsa, which is produced by the Mentoring Positives nonprofit which promotes urban gardening and entrepreneurship in low-income neighborhoods. A similar mentoring effort, Badger Kraut and Pickle, is also expected to participate, says Blake-Horst.
To that end, Blake-Horst views a public market as something unique to the city that could provide not only shopping and vending opportunities but a way to promote start-up businesses and provide opportunities for young people.
“This is an opportunity to partner with the city and talk about what our market should be,” she says. “This is not about being like Seattle’s or Milwaukee’s. It’s Madison’s.” ￼
￼At the very least, we’ll get the down and dirty on how much interest there is. Meghan Blake-Horst, organizer of several local vendors backing a public market