Downtown market to spring up in Middlebury
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury’s remodeled Triangle Park — an eye-catching byproduct of the recently completed $72 million downtown tunnel project — will soon become a weekly hub for shopping, music and socializing.
The park, which fronts Middlebury’s town green and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, will host the first of 20 consecutive Midd Summer Market gatherings next Thursday, May 19. The markets will be held from 3-7 p.m. each Thursday, through Oct. 6.
“It’s really exciting,” said Karen Duguay, executive director of the Better Middlebury Partnership (BMP), which is spearheading the markets. “It should be a fun addition to the downtown.”
Duguay explained the idea for the markets arose last fall while BMP officials were brainstorming ways to restore vitality to the downtown following multiple years of mercantile hardship brought on by tunnel construction and pandemic restrictions. One of the bright spots during those tough years was “Bundle,” a pop-up events space that gained a nice following and prompted devotees to dine and shop at other downtown businesses.
“It gave some energy to the downtown,” Duguay said of Bundle. “We were thinking of ways to replicate that, and one of the things our board was adamant about is that (a new draw) be consistently offered, and offered at the same time and same place each week.”
They decided on a Midd Summer Market series, and agreed a manager was needed to provide the weekly events with effective stewardship. Serendipitously, a local charity known as Table 21 had been looking for a local economic development cause to support, and contributed $25,000 to get the Midd Summer Markets off to a rollicking start. This seed money, among other things, enabled the organization to hire Nan Carpenter as market manager.
The timing was great for Carpenter, who’d been looking to pivot from her nursing job in Rutland County to more civic-oriented service closer to her Middlebury home. She knew she wanted to become involved with the summer market series as soon as she heard about the idea and saw the transformed Triangle Park.
“I wanted a new direction in life and wasn’t interested in being in the health care field anymore; I wanted to feel more involved with the community,” said Carpenter, whose long career in nursing included stints with Middlebury College, the former St. Mary’s School and Camp Keewaydin.
Plans call for the markets to become an annual offering, financially sustained through vendor fees and potential grants. Vendors must fill out an application specifying which market date(s) on which they’d like to reserve a 10-feet-by-10-feet spot located on the hard surface of Triangle Park, or abutting grassy area of the town green.
The vendor fee is $30 per market.
Organizers envision markets with a maximum of 14-18 on-site vendors selling a diverse array of products ranging from fresh seasonal produce to artwork and crafts.
“We’re going to offer a unique experience week after week in terms of the mix of vendors,” Duguay promised.
Main Street merchants will also be able to benefit on market days, according to Duguay. They’ll have an opportunity to hold sidewalk sales (town permission pending) and adjust their store hours to remain open until 7 p.m.
Depending on demand, a food truck could be allowed to set up near the park. Vendors will be allowed to sell prepared food as an additional on-site convenience for market-goers, Duguay confirmed.
The BMP has contracted with Town Hall Theater to secure live music for the weekly markets; performers will likely play/sing for two hours at the venue during each Thursday session.
Organizers stressed Midd Summer Markets won’t compete with the traditional Middlebury Farmers Markets held each Wednesday and Saturday on the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7823 property at 530 Exchange St. In fact, the BMP is offering current Middlebury Farmers Market vendors a reduced rate for spots at the Midd Summer sessions to encourage their participation. Plans call for cross-promotional efforts among the two markets, according to Duguay.
“We are really looking to be collaborative on this,” she said. “What we’ve said is they can come, they can test us out at pretty much no risk to them. We’re offering them a 50% discount, we’re doing the coordination, the marketing and providing the music. Come test out the downtown space and see how it is. We’re saying (to farmers market leaders), ‘If your vendors really like the experience, maybe that will lead to more conversations about how the downtown can be utilized for a future farmers market.’”
No previous experience as a market vendor? Each week, the BMP will provide a free spot to one or two novice vendors who are learning the market scene. They’ll be provided with a tent, table, chairs and sales advice for that one free appearance.
A special section of the market will be set aside for established Middlebury businesses to promote their products, sales, menus and more.
Carpenter is already thinking big about the market’s potential and how it might branch into new directions. For example, she’d like to set up a booth for child entrepreneurs. Her vision includes expanding the reach of the market to other downtown locations — such as the Frog Hollow area, with its scenic Otter Creek Falls backdrop.
“We’d like to make it a Middlebury experience,” she said.
Midd Summer Market is already proving a hot ticket with vendors. Duguay said vendor spaces are sold out for a few of the 20 market dates. Those seeking to reserve one of the spaces need to fill out an application at tinyurl.com/ycycj37j.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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