MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury’s remodeled Triangle Park — an eye-catching byproduct of the recently completed $72 million downtown tunnel project — will soon become a weekly hub for shopping, music and socializing.
The park, which faces the greenery of Middlebury town and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, will host the first of 20 consecutive summer market gatherings next Thursday, May 19. The markets will be held from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Thursday until October 6.
“It’s really exciting,” said Karen Duguay, chief executive of the Better Middlebury Partnership (BMP), which spearheads the markets. “It should be a fun addition to downtown.”
Duguay said the idea for the markets was born last fall as BMP officials brainstormed ways to restore vitality to downtown after several years of business difficulties caused by tunnel construction and pandemic restrictions. . One of the highlights of those tough years was “Bundle,” a pop-up event space that attracted a large following and enticed worshipers to dine and shop at other downtown businesses.
“It energized downtown,” Duguay said of Bundle. “We were thinking of ways to replicate that, and one of the things our board was adamant about is that (a new draw) be offered consistently, and offered at the same time and place every week.”
They opted for a Midd Summer Market series and agreed that a manager was needed to ensure efficient management of the weekly events. Coincidentally, a local charity known as Table 21 was looking for a local economic development cause to support and donated $25,000 to get the Midsummer Markets started. This seed capital, among other things, enabled the organization to hire Nan Carpenter as its market manager.
The timing was perfect for Carpenter, who was looking to transition from her job as a nurse in Rutland County to more civic service closer to her Middlebury home. She knew she wanted to be involved in the Summer Market Series as soon as she heard about the idea and saw the transformed Triangle Park.
“I wanted a new direction in life and was no longer interested in working in healthcare; I wanted to feel more involved in the community,” said Carpenter, whose long career in nursing included stints at Middlebury College, the old St. Mary’s School and Camp Keewaydin.
Plans call for markets to become an annual offering, financially supported by vendor fees and potential grants. Vendors must complete an application specifying which market date(s) they would like to reserve a 10ft x 10ft location located on the hard surface of Triangle Park or adjacent to the grassy area of the City Green.
Seller fee is $30 per market.
Organizers envision markets with a maximum of 14 to 18 vendors on site selling a diverse range of goods from fresh seasonal produce to artwork and crafts.
“We are going to offer a unique experience week after week in terms of supplier mix,” promised Duguay.
Main Street merchants will also be able to take advantage of it on market days, according to Duguay. They will have the opportunity to hold sidewalk sales (city approval pending) and adjust their store hours to stay open until 7 p.m.
Depending on demand, a food truck could be authorized to set up near the park. Vendors will be allowed to sell prepared foods as an added on-site convenience for market-goers, Duguay confirmed.
The BMP contracted with the Town Hall Theater to obtain live music for the weekly markets; performers will likely play/sing for two hours onsite during each Thursday session.
Organizers have stressed that the Midd Summer Markets will not compete with the traditional Middlebury Farmers Markets which are held every Wednesday and Saturday on the Post 7823 Foreign Wars Veterans property at 530 Exchange St. In fact, the BMP is offering current Middlebury Farmers’ Market vendors a reduced rate for places at the mid-summer sessions to encourage their attendance. Plans include cross-promotion efforts between the two markets, according to Duguay.
“We’re really looking to collaborate on this,” she said. “What we said is that they can come, they can test us without any risk to them. We offer them a 50% discount, we do the coordination, the marketing and provide the music. Come and test the downtown space and see how it is. We say (to Farmer’s Market Leaders): “If your vendors really like the experience, maybe it will lead to more conversations about how downtown can be used for a future Farmer’s Market.”
No previous experience as a marketplace seller? Each week, the BMP will offer a free seat to one or two newbie sellers who are new to the market scene. They will receive a tent, table, chairs and sales tips for this free appearance.
A special section of the market will be set aside for established Middlebury businesses to promote their products, sales, menus and more.
Carpenter is already thinking big about the potential of the market and how it could move in new directions. For example, she would like to set up a booth for child entrepreneurs. His vision includes expanding the market’s reach to other downtown locations, such as the Frog Hollow area, with its scenic backdrop of Otter Creek Falls.
“We would like to make it a Middlebury experience,” she said.
Midd Summer Market is already proving very popular with vendors. Duguay said vendor spaces are sold out for a few of the 20 market dates. Those wishing to reserve one of the spaces should complete a request at tinyurl.com/ycycj37j.
More market details can be found at experiencemiddlebury.com, or by emailing [email protected]
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]