This story is part of a series about Washtenaw County businesses' response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Support for this series is provided by Ann Arbor SPARK.
COVID-19 closed many art fairs and farmers markets this summer, leaving many artists, craftspeople, and other small business owners with one less avenue to sell their wares. But three different organizers in Ypsilanti have created new, small, COVID-safe markets in an effort to keep those entrepreneurs afloat.
John Newman, office manager at the Back Office Studio (BOS), a co-working space in Ypsilanti, created the Ypsi Pop-Up Market @ North Washington Street. Newman says he started the outdoor market because many "micro-business" owners' income "had pretty much dried up." The market has been hosting local vendors three times a week since the early summer, when street closures were put in place to help Ypsilanti restaurants expand outdoor seating.
The Ypsi Pop-Up Market @ North Washington Street.
"It was a perfect recipe," Newman says. "We had space in front of our building on a street that would be open only to pedestrians. And we had people who needed a way to keep their businesses going."
To date, 68 people have reached out to BOS to express interest in selling their wares at the market. Each market is limited to six vendors to allow for social distancing, and many are repeat sellers. At any given market, shoppers have an opportunity to support local micro-businesses selling wares ranging from art to vintage clothing.
A vendor at the Ypsi Pop-Up Market @ North Washington Street.
Offering some of the more vulnerable local businesses a financial lifeline has been rewarding for the BOS team. And the market has had a ripple effect on nearby brick-and-mortar stores.
"The folks in local businesses have all told us that they are busier when the market is happening," Newman says. "I like to say that a rising tide lifts all boats."
Ypsilanti resident Cherisa Allen, founder of the nonprofit Women and Men Working for Change, has a similar outlook. In April, Allen says her mother's death resulted in her "completely losing [her] mojo" and needing uplifting herself. While grieving, she woke up one June morning at 4:00 a.m. with an idea to do something meaningful to help local Black-owned micro-businesses.
"With anything I do, I am always lifting as I climb. I'm always bringing in other Black women or other Black businesses," she says.
Allen got on the phone with her best friend Shawna Goodloe and together they sussed out a plan to create an outdoor Black Business Market Place. Interest was instant and overwhelming. While they'd intended to feature only 12 vendors, they ended up with 22.
Cherisa Allen and Shawna Goodloe celebrate after hosting their first Black Business Market Place.
Feedback from the community and vendors was so positive that Allen planned to have a second market in August. It was cancelled, however, due to last-minute county restrictions on the size of gatherings.
Allen and Goodloe are now working on planning future events.
"Everyone wants more," Goodloe says. "It's a good feeling to know that we're doing something that's keeping local Black businesses surviving and keeping people alive."
Allen adds that the market brought in a diverse crowd, which could have a bigger impact for the community.
"We showed people that Black businesses are diverse and that we have products and services that are not just for Black people," she says. "Our fairs are a way to showcase the positive side of what's happening in the Black community."
Tiffany Grimes, co-owner of That's Our Jam, agrees. Her homemade jams were first introduced to customers at the market and since then her business has skyrocketed. She says people have started calling her "The Jam Lady." She and her business partner, Kimberly Johnson, have been invited to participate in several other markets since then. People even stop her on the street and ask about her products.
Grimes is grateful for the launching pad that local marketplaces provide for micro-business owners like herself.
"They give us a voice many of us cannot afford, because we are small or just getting started," she says. "I often sell out now. It's a fantastic problem to have."
For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cherisa Allen and Shawna Goodloe photo courtesy of Cherisa Allen.