By Aaron Royce
Capital News Service
RICHMOND, Va. — The usual nest for the hometown baseball team converts on Saturdays to a haven for local merchants and shoppers.
The PopUp Market at The Diamond baseball stadium where the Richmond Flying Squirrels play is a new outdoor market for small business owners. Vendors set up in the parking lot to sell products like food, clothing, home goods and art.
Brian Sullivan, CEO of River City Festivals, partnered with The Diamond to make the pop-up event possible. It launched in early April. Over 2,000 visitors have attended each Saturday, Sullivan stated over email. He anticipates the audience to grow this summer until the event ends in July.
The market is an opportunity for businesses “to get back to work,” according to Sullivan.
”The only way to help a small business is to give them the opportunity to help themselves, and that’s what we’re doing,” Sullivan stated.
The Diamond is an ideal spot because it’s a familiar landmark in a central location with ample parking, Sullivan said. The community’s response to the market so far has been “overwhelmingly positive,” according to Sullivan.
“To be honest with you, as strange as this may sound, we haven’t had one negative comment on Facebook or Instagram or email or anything,” Sullivan stated. He added that many of the vendors and food trucks from the market’s first event sold out.
The open-air market takes place outside with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in place.
Sullivan found vendors by researching other events. He also reached out to vendors on social media and posted advertisements on Facebook, Instagram and Etsy.
Vendors can register on the River City Festivals’ website. Approved vendors are scheduled for specific weeks to help avoid competition between similar vendors, according to Sullivan. Each vendor pays a $45 fee for reserving their market space. The money goes toward advertising costs for the event, Sullivan stated in an email. The website lists upcoming vendors several weeks in advance.
Monique Thornhill, owner of hand sanitizer brand CitrisSan, said she was drawn to the market after seeing other events hosted by River City Festival. The company hosts markets, a food truck rally, and wine, beer and cider tasting events throughout the Richmond area, according to its website.
“I love the way he organizes everything,” Thornhill said.
Thornhill also works full-time for the State Corporation Commission. She said the market helps increase business owners’ livelihoods, especially if they don’t have other income sources and were impacted by the pandemic. Vendors’ products are more special due to the effort put into them, and money from events like the market can also help them employ others locally, Thornhill said.
“It’s not always about the money all the time,” Thornhill said. “It’s about just getting your brand out and helping the communities, keeping the dollars locally.”
Lauren Delaney sells ’90s inspired soy candles under the name Pretty on the Inside Candles. The market’s success also comes from peoples’ desire to shop locally and be outside of the house after being cooped up for a year, Delaney said.
River City Festivals will book vendors through the end of July, with plans for the market to return in September and October.
The event runs Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 3001 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd. There are food and beer trucks in addition to vendors. The event is free to enter.
“We are here every weekend, rain or shine,” Sullivan said.