Claire Darcy, Contributing Writer
Bustling rows of tents line the parking lot of a familiar Richmond baseball stadium as friends, families and dogs shop for trinkets from dozens of local small businesses from a variety of industries, such as baked goods, apparel, pet accessories and home decor.
The PopUp Market, a new weekly outdoor event organized by River City Festivals, hosts dozens of local vendors and a handful of food trucks at The Diamond stadium on North Arthur Ashe Boulevard. The event aims to promote small businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s designed to really help these businesses start to get back to work,” said Brian Sullivan, the CEO of River City Festivals. “Our goal is to continue to be able to support our neighbors here in Richmond, all the local businesses, the folks that really drive our local economy.”
The open-air market began on April 10, and is held each Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sullivan said the time and location was chosen with many factors in mind. He said the Diamond is a central location within Richmond, and that because most farmers markets are held on Sunday mornings, Saturday afternoons would not pose too much conflict.
Sullivan said that after being repeatedly contacted by several businesses in search of event opportunities throughout 2020, he reached out to the Richmond Flying Squirrels to set up a collaboration.
The market’s first iteration on April 10 hosted approximately 55 vendors, while the April 17 market hosted 71, Sullivan said. While there is space to accommodate more vendors, he said he will continue to host around 70 each week.
“We wanted to make sure that we have enough vendors to make it an enjoyable experience for all the guests, but we also wanted to make sure that we didn’t have too many,” Sullivan said. “We want to make sure that all these local businesses are able to do well, so we didn’t want to dilute their potential.”
Sullivan said that nearly 600 different vendors have applied to participate in the PopUp Market events through July.
Threaded Roots Creations, a handmade apparel company, participated in the April 17 market. The company is co-owned by Justin Moore and Heather Houser through their online store and Etsy platform.
Moore said they have traveled to various festival and market events throughout Virginia since the company’s launch in January.
The company got its start because of the COVID-19 pandemic; Houser said she used time during stay-at-home orders to expand upon her crochet skills.
“It was kind of a propelling force for us, actually,” Moore said. “I know a lot of businesses struggled, but this was a time for us to recollect and a lot of it spun just from hobbies that we picked up during the pandemic, so we decided to pursue those and grow with them.”
Houser said their experience with the event went well, and they plan to return on a monthly basis.
AR’s Hot Southern Honey, a spicy honey product brand founded by Ames Russell, offered samples of their lineup at the pop-up.
While Russell primarily operates using a traditional wholesale and food service distribution model, he noted that since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, his direct-to-consumer online sales have increased. With each purchase, he gives customers recipes that use his honey.
“During the pandemic a lot more people are cooking at home and looking for ways to be more creative,” Russell said. “My hot honey is a simple and relatively inexpensive way to jazz up an otherwise ordinary meal.”
While this area of his business flourished, Russell also cited difficulties in the face of the pandemic; his sales to restaurants suffered, and he was unable to participate in as many in-person events as he previously had.
“I do these events, they’re revenue events for me, but more importantly they’re a marketing event. They’re an opportunity for me to introduce the concept of spicy honey to people who come out,” Russell said. “It’s an opportunity for me to create customers who then will go and support my retail customers.”
After participating in the April 10 and 17 markets, he said he has plans to continue taking part in future PopUp Market events.
“I’m just so happy to be back out in front of people, sharing with them what I love to do,” Russell said.
Best friends and VCU alumnae Erin Kennedy and Megan Reese visited the market on April 17 after seeing advertising on Facebook. They purchased apparel and beverages, and tasted samples of AR’s Hot Southern Honey during their visit.
“It’s nice to be in a public setting again,” Kennedy said. “We used to go to markets, to these things all the time.”
They said they were excited to be able to support local businesses and expressed plans to visit the market again on future weekends.
Future markets have been scheduled through July. Sullivan said he hopes to continue the PopUp Market through the end of summer and into the fall, and said he would like to see the event become a Richmond staple.
A schedule of future PopUp Market events can be found on the River City Festivals website.