There’s no better way to get to know a town than by going to their public market. In addition to the Saturday Farmers Market, Downtown Bellingham has taken it one step further. The Commercial Street Night Market, hosted by the Downtown Bellingham Partnership, is the perfect way to kick off a weekend and get to know the real Bellingham. With local food and artisans vendors, music and live performances in a relaxed, outdoor setting, these six pop-up events will fill your evenings with fun, 6 to 10 p.m. on the third Friday of the month May through September. (May 19, June 16, July 21, Aug. 18, and Sept. 15, 2017)
A Little History
Night Market is the fabulous product based on the winning concept in Bellingham’s first¬†KAPOW¬†placemaking competition administered by Rose Lathrop of¬†Sustainable Connections¬†Green Building and Smart Growth Program. Submitted by Bellingham’s Dean Fearing¬†in 2015, Night Market’s concept furthers KAPOW!’s goal to incorporate¬†creative, inexpensive ideas from the public to make small, urban spaces more lively and enjoyable, a movement called tactical urbanism.
Downtown Bellingham Partnership’s Morgan Henry began as a Night Market volunteer at the inaugural event. She’s been there all along to see it grow and change, as has her role. Because of her efforts and a transition into her existing position of Events & Programming Coordinator for the Partnership, Night Market promises to be bigger and better than ever before.
What to Expect
Each event will include more than twenty artisan vendors and six food trucks. But less than half are the same from month to month, so each event will have a different variety of styles and flavors, making it possible to attend them all without seeing or tasting it all. The events are so popular that most of the available vending spots have been reserved for the rest of the year. Night Market organizers have also made sure that food options include vegetarian, vegan, gluten- and dairy-free options as well.
The entertainment is perhaps the most exciting part of the event. Morgan tells me she and the selection committee really try to mix things up so that each night is its own unique experience. Last year included aerial and juggling performances by members of Bellingham Circus Guild, an improv troupe, and local musicians to name just a few. Each live performance happens at street level, in the middle of Commercial Street, which is closed to vehicle traffic during each event.
This year promises to be just as engaging and family-friendly. The opening event in May will include performances by the 40-piece Western Washington University Viking Band and a hip-hop dance crew from local studio Dancing for Joy. In June, the mezzanine of the adjacent parking garage will be commandeered and temporarily converted to a 1980’s style roller rink. Performances that expect audience participation are also planned including yoga, a watermelon-eating contest, DJ’s, Cafe Rumba’s salsa dancers, Jazzercise, and a whole array of other fun.
The location of the event makes a¬†Beer Garden unnecessary.¬†Uisce Authentic Irish Pub’s outdoor patio overlooks the performance area and offers a variety of local and imported beverages.
Each event has a similar schedule. The party begins at 6 p.m. with the raising of the Bellingham Flag. Performances¬†follow in about 30-minute increments until around 8 p.m. when entertainment transitions to unbridled music and dancing in the street until 10 p.m.
Supporting Local and Pacific Northwest Artists and Businesses
More than 25 local and Pacific Northwest artists and vendors are showcased at each event. Morgan tells me that participation is juried, meaning each has been vetted for quality and dedication to the craft. Each has a business license and an established following. The committee tries to select a wide variety of vendors to provide depth to each market at an affordable price point, and more than half are new each month to keep it fresh and different. Although a handful of vendors will be joining the event from Portland, Seattle, and Skagit County, a number of vendors are Whatcom County-based.
Bellingham florist Natalie Ransom of Pozie by Natalie¬†has participated in Night Market as an artisan vendor. She shared her one-of-a-kind succulent jewelry, air plant terrariums, and marimo moss ball globes in addition to fresh, local flowers. Last year she helped customers make their own wreath from natural, local materials.
Natalie grew up doing the farmer’s market with her father, a farmer in Michigan. She loves the variety of food and goods you discovered that you wouldn’t find any other way. To Natalie, Night Market is an effective way to get in front of customers in a non-traditional way. In addition to same-day sales, some patrons become repeat customers down the road, hiring her for weddings and corporate events. “It is so fun to be introduced to so many new, creative people all in one place. It gives you a way to connect with customers more deeply and directly¬†than standard advertising,” explains Natalie.
Rain Or Shine
All of the artisan’s booths are covered by tents so the fickle Pacific Northwest rain can’t stop the Night Market. Last year, it snowed during the Holiday Market adding an other-worldly feel. Morgan says rain has never been an issue because the event is nestled between multi-story buildings with trees for protection.
“Night Market is a very different way to experience Bellingham compared to other events. It showcases Bellingham’s hyper-creative community,” explains Morgan. “Its placemaking and it’s activating our downtown in a positive way. It promotes as strong sense of connection and camaraderie within our community and is welcoming to visitors. We purposely¬†create delight and surprise to take you out of your element.”
My family and I love to take the night off, roam freely and safely throughout the market, indulging in food, shopping and entertainment, each at our own pace. There is something to interest everyone and not a second for boredom. We go every month because each night is a new, vibrant, memorable experience where we can connect with friends and all the things we love about the real Bellingham community.