By Isaac Bonnell
For many locals, the opening of the Bellingham Farmers Market on April 3 was a sign that winter has ended and spring has sprung. But for many vendors, the market means steady business during a time when the economy has hit small businesses hard.
Last year was a tough year for craft vendors in particular, said Market Director Caprice Teske. Though foot traffic remained high, averaging 1,200 to 1,500 each weekend, people generally shied away from expensive gifts and spent their money on food and vegetables.
Despite the economy, the market saw a 3 percent increase in revenue last year, a trend that Teske hopes will continue this year.
“We will be really happy if we can pull in the same kind of year as last year,” Teske said. “If we can maintain that, we wil be doing really well and we’ll be grateful for that.”
Last year was Cheyenne Black’s first at the Bellingham Farmers Market. As the co-owner of Sip-T, an organic tea blending company, she said the market gave her business a presence in the community and helped her cultivate a group of devout customers.
“The Farmers Market is great as an alternative storefront when you’re just getting going,” Black said. “It lets you get to know your market without having to invest in a retail location.”
And when the market ended in December, Black had enough regular customers from the market to keep steady business through the winter.
The visibility of the market is usually the main attraction for new businesses, Teske said. Each year, the market receives 30 to 50 applications from new vendors vying for five to 10 openings.
“We can fit 110 vendors on-site, and we have about 140 for the Saturday market,” Teske said, adding that some vendors switch weeks. “It’s a scheduling challenge. We are maxed out on space and it’s getting to be really tight.”
Two new vendors that made the cut this year are Bison Bookbinding and Juice Peddler. For Carly James of Bison Bookbinding, the market will be a chance for her and her husband, Kevin Nelson, to get back into the retail side of the print business. The couple previously had their old-fashioned presses in a shop on North State Street, but moved the business to their house last year.
“Now that we’re working out of our home, we thought it might be nice to be out in the public every week, just to let people know we didn’t go out of business,” James said. “And it’s an opportunity for us to work on our own artwork.”
Most of their work is in designing and printing posters and books for private clients, she added, which leaves little time for artistic pursuits. But this year, James and Nelson decided to spend time developing their own line of greeting cards. They plan to sell their cards at the market, along with journals, sketchbooks, and of course, bookbinding supplies for those who want to get creative at home.
Juice Peddler, on the other hand, will offer market-goers a chance to blend their own smoothies using a bike-mounted blender. Owner Kelli Akre came up with the idea while traveling around Thailand on her bike. When she came back, she figured out a way to mechanically attached a blender to the drivetrain of a bicycle. The blender sits above the front wheel and is operated by the customer pedaling the bike.
“This blender can go faster than a plug-in blender because of how fast you can pedal the bike,” Akre said.
For Akre, the Farmers Market is just the beginning. She hopes to eventually open a retail location in town and make more pedal-operated blenders. But until then, she’ll be parking her bike every Saturday down at the Bellingham Farmers Market.