Making room for the Uptown Market

Tripped up by city regulations, the market manages a return

THE WEDGE — When Uptown Market founder Roxie Speth showed up at the February 2009 CARAG Board of Directors meeting pitching her plan to hold an Uptown arts and crafts fair featuring local artists, it was an idea ahead of its time.

At least, it was ahead of Minneapolis city code.

After four monthly events last summer that mingled local artists and craftspeople with area farmers selling fresh produce, the Uptown Market will return again in 2010 as a weekly event for 15 Sundays beginning June 20. But because the hybrid art fair and farmers’ market doesn’t fit neatly into existing city regulations, it will look slightly different than it did last year.

Expect more fresh produce, but — on most weeks — fewer of the non-food vendors who last year sold their artwork, jewelry, wooden bicycle handlebars, posters, T-shirts and other locally made goods.

This year, the Uptown Market will operate as a public market as defined under city ordinance, which limits the number of non-food vendors to no more than 25 percent of the of all vendors at the market. Last year, booths selling arts and crafts far outnumbered those selling produce on West 29th Street between Dupont and Lyndale avenues.

Shaun Laden, part of the all-volunteer crew that runs the market, said it was the best solution they could come up with after months of working with city staff. They didn’t face the same restrictions last year when they were permitted as special block events, but there was no way to bring Uptown Market back as a weekly event under those conditions, Laden said.

“We are going to lose a little bit in terms of the feel of the market, but we’ll be working with the city throughout the summer and in the fall,” he said. “Hopefully, for 2011, we’ll be back to where we were in terms of offering folks the chance to meet a lot of local artists and see what the community is making.

“It is a little bit disappointing, but we’re far more excited about the fact that we are going to be weekly.”

Uptown residents should be excited, too. Feedback from last summer indicated market-goers wanted a weekly event and more produce offerings.

Time for a change

Laden said city licensing rules allow Uptown Market to host a larger percentage of artists and craftspeople for at least three, and as many as six, of their weekly events this year, including the first market June 20. But for the market to return as originally envisioned next spring will take a rewriting of city ordinance, something Uptown Market staff plan to pursue with the help of Ward 10 City Council Member Meg Tuthill.

Tuthill — noting Ward 7 Council Member Lisa Goodman’s recent, successful effort to ease restrictions on street food vendors — suggested this was another area where city code needed to catch up with the times.

“It’s a huge asset to the community, and I think we should make it as painless as possible,” Tuthill said.

She said those changes could be included in a package of public market reforms the Council will consider this fall. Those proposed reforms grew out of the Homegrown Minneapolis initiative, which among other things, aims to promote access to fresh, local food through farmers’ markets.

Until then, the limits on non-food vendors at Uptown Market may hinder plans for its growth.

Laden predicted Uptown Market would finish the season “on strong financial footing,” but said smaller events, with fewer non-food vendors paying booth rental fees, could set back plans to hire a paid market manager next spring.

“The unfortunate part is we were really hoping this year to be in a position to bring on a part-time staff person to help us out with all this,” he said. “Certainly, next year, we are really going to want to, and this hurts our ability to do that.”

Mixing it up

City Special Events Coordinator Phil Schliesman said Uptown Market got tangled in city regulations precisely because it was unique.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had somebody that’s come to us that’s wanted to have [an event like this of] a reoccurring nature,” Schliesman said.

The Uptown Market model worked for local poster artist David Witt, aka Dwitt, who set up a booth at three of four events last summer. Witt gave the market “a huge thumbs up” for the diverse crowd and the exposure it gave his work.

“It was my first time selling at any kind of market, period, let alone an outdoors one,” he said. “I did well, and people really enjoyed the market itself.”

Jeff Greengard, who sells vinyl billboards recycled into totes and messenger bags under the name Drive By Bags, said he saw “steady growth in participation and foot traffic” over the course of last summer.

Ross Peterson of Laughing Stalk Farmstead sold produce at two Uptown Market events last year and spent time chatting with a painter who rented the booth next door. Laughing Stalk Farmstead will be back for all 15 events this summer, Peterson said.

“We really like the mix of vendors,” he said. “It makes the market really fun.”