I had bought into the dream of revitalizing the downtown core. I was in love with the idea. That is usually a red flag in business. Being in love with something does not always mean it will translate to other people loving it. Strangers, friends and family love to give business advice… even when they have never run a business in their life. Go to “Whyte Ave” was the cry… it is where the people are. Although this was true, I was steadfast in my desire to want to support the growth of the downtown core. Too bad the city did not feel the same way about me as I did them.
Each step was a another lesson in patience and inequity. Farmer’s markets are beloved by the city and the residents alike. They have been romanticized in rose color glasses from a time that has long since passed. The origin of a farmer’s market started to help FARMERS where people made and grew their food and needed a place to sell it.
“a farm selling products, when
the products come from a farmer’s farm and the sale is
conducted by the farmer from the farm”
The intention of a farmer’s market is not for the cat lady making candy in her kitchen or the man making unknown dog treats from his toaster oven in his basement. Yes, yes …there are a lot of amazing “home-made” , “home-grown” products and people out there. I am just not clear how someone who makes dog treats at home can sell them in a farmer’s market but not a public market. The kitchen has not changed…. just sayin’….TO BE CONTINUED
There are 365 days in a year. My “doors’ had been open for business for a total of 15 days and I was ready to throw in the towel. What I needed was some time to lick my wounds. I was fortunate, I could close my doors and go off to cry silently in a corner and not have to get up and do it again if I didn’t want to. I think of that every time I walk into a new restaurant and I am the only one who is there. They have no where to hide.
My memories from when I was a little girl, as I lay in my bed dreaming, was about having my own business. I did not dream about princess dresses and a handsome knights to rescue me. I dreamt of a powder blue power suit, with big shoulders and a Mercedes Benz. I have tried many businesses over my years, I sold nutrition products and lingerie… online sales, flipping houses, putting together products at home, writing books, computer work. None were particularly satisfying or successful. The first spark of joy hit me when I ran my first Christmas craft market. My daughter was a baby, my spouse was finishing a second degree in university and we were dirt poor. Sometimes I think our floor didn’t even have any dirt… that’s how poor we were. My meager profits from the event paid for the our Christmas tree and some presents. Something felt right….TO BE CONTINUED
The rest of the season did not go much better. I had a few more vendors and a few more people came and went. I made a couple sales. Each Friday was another lesson in humility, patience and avoidance… just because you build it does not mean they will come. Sitting in an empty lot with vendors staring you down because there is no one else to look at takes a lot out of a gal.
When I wasn’t at work or my side hustle, I attended events. Lunch and learn, networking, social media workshops. I was constantly asked “What is a night market anyways?”…not easy to explain when the idea in your head does not meet the reality on the street. It is tough to be confident when the thought of having another unsuccessful Friday night market with or without rain was worse than eating glass. They never tell you in business 101 that less than 1% of all new businesses start out the gate as a roaring success. I kept telling people it’s a “market” at “night” seemed simple to me.
The season closed and breathed a deep sigh of relief. I scheduled night market for 15 weeks and I completed 15 weeks. That was a success in itself. I did not make any money, the summer almost stole my entire soul and I was sad, dejected and certain I was never , ever in a million years going to do anything that ego crushing again. Back to two jobs instead of three, I needed the sleep anyways….TO BE CONTINUED
THE FIRST FIFTEEN DAYS – YEAR ONE
I kept soliciting vendors, tried to get more people to come out. It was a horrible catch-22 I couldn’t get people to come because I had hardly any vendors and I barely had any vendors because people were not coming. Some vendors were gracious and understood I was trying hard. I would spend every Thursday before night market walking around downtown for hours writing our information on the sidewalk in chalk, pointing people in our direction. Balloons on light standards, paper flyers… I walked and walked and tried and tried. Sometimes after all that work it rained on Friday and washed away all my chalk drawings. That would leave me completely deflated. Add the chaos of my life, the two jobs I had on top of night market to pay the bills and I should have been at the end of my sanity. I certainly was not making a single cent at night market. What kind of crazy person pays to work? It was great for my diet… I had never been so thin……TO BE CONTINUED
…..From the outset it was not going to be easy. The public market category had been eliminated the year before. I was not a farmers market so I had to be a flea market for licensing, not quite the feel I was going for. Our weather limits how much time you can run things outdoors. Trying to convince vendors or ‘night market traders’ as I called them back then was a challenge… being the new kid on the block, with no track record and no backers. I will never forget the popcorn man telling me I would never make it, he would never pay my fee and I would NEVER get the city to change the hefty business license fees for “flea” market vendors and that would be on top of my night market fee. Through my work with the city the fee was reduced, and eventually eliminated as the public market category was re-instated and brought into closer alignment with farmers markets. Making my voice be heard with the city and with city council were more small steps.
THE FIRST FIFTEEN DAYS – YEAR ONE
The first season and fifteen days of business was horrendous. It was a summer of rain, not much different than the one we have been experienced this year. The first Friday, armed with one loving family member and a total of 6 vendors, we were set to launch. Promptly on cue for our opening day the sky opened up and the rain began to fall. I think a total of 10 people showed up. It continued to rain each and every Friday, just in time for night market, for another 5 Friday nights in a row. The last Friday of rain was a torrential rain sent from mother nature herself, it made the vendors tent canopies so heavy with rain they fell inwards. Some vendors were more vocal than others, some demanded their money back. Quitting was not an option, I needed to try to up attendance and vendors to meet the obligations that I had already signed up for. I was near tears, I wondered what I was thinking by adding more stress to my already chaotic life. …. TO BE CONTINUED
Approaching my 66 day of night market in the six year of business equates to 666. For some this would be a bad omen, but not for me. Yesterday was a small milestone in a series of small steps that are easy to overlook. Today I choose to celebrate. In 2013, during what was the most harrowing and scary time in my life, a small ray of sunshine found its way to me and I decided to start a night market. This was the beginning of the adventure that has given me joy when I thought I had none, peace where I thought none existed and a new future to work towards when I was no longer sure where I was going or if I would ever get anywhere.
I knew immediately I would not become a farmer’s market, night market was going to be different. It would be a socially minded, happy “3rd place” for people to gather while quietly doing good one night market at a time….to be continued
Never tell the universe you are ready to put your head down and focus… for me that is when life throws a spanner in the works… this week was no exception. I thought it was hard to focus with just my regular side hustle, job, meetings, kids, and then the spanner.
Interesting how your perspective suddenly changes and you wish you had “all that time” you had before to get things done. Alas, I had to get super focused and that is no easy feat for me who constantly gets distracted by pretty much anything, especially if I don’t really feel like doing something… wine is a good one, there is a reason I take all those wine classes 🙂
Boss lady advice … when life is throwing a spanner at you find the business things you love to do and focus on that for awhile. This is how you still get things done in chaos. I spent this week doing much needed therapy… vintage shopping and the universe was listening. I need a 1970 phone table, old record player, chair, old books and kitsch… I was not disappointed and proudly stuffed my car with all my fab finds in less than two hours. Not having rental space nor a garage meant I had to set it all up in the living room to see how it fit and what else is needed. This is my wheel house and I was smiling. Rotary phone works – check, soft lighting – check – big smile and a little fun – check – who knew work could be so good.
I work best in the morning, it is the time I feel fresh and ready to put down all the things that were floating in my head while dreaming. It is tough to work in the morning when you have a side hustle and a regular job, that means getting up very early … like 5am to work before work and then I come home to work at night. Today was a joy, up early with several espresso’s, my keyboard and the full day ahead to do the daily weekend stuff.
It is challenging to find time for your side hustle when there seems to be a constant stream of other life stuff that needs your attention to. We are 6 weeks from night market people, I am letting you know it is time for me to dig in deep and focus… only way to make a success is work hard.
Let’s see how it goes…. 5 am comes mighty early, #justsayin