Early-morning business is always bustling for James Yoder, founder and owner of Not Just Coffee Shop, as bleary-eyed Lynx riders exit the light rail and enter the adjacent 7th Street Public Market, eager for pour-over coffee or a latte with heart-shaped froth.
Tuesday nights are a big win for Rachel Klebaur, who owns the market’s Orrman’s Cheese Shop, as she serves complementary cheeses every other week at vendor The Sorting Table’s wine tastings.
And a retweet from the 7th Street Public Market’s Twitter account can bring in a fresh batch of customers, eager for the macaroon of the day at best friends Mike Shafer and Lin McKay’s barCHOCOLATE stand.
“(It’s) a dynamic area ... a community,” says Shafer of barCHOCOLATE, which opened at the market four months ago. “We fit right in with what’s going on here.”
Yoder, Klebaur, Shafer and McKay are all small-business owners getting a boost from the central location and collaborative atmosphere of uptown’s 7th Street Public Market.
The market opened a year and a half ago, with sponsorships from Carolinas Medical Center and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and promotions from uptown economic development group Charlotte Center City Partners.
The concept was broad: a nonprofit public market to be a community gathering place for celebrating Carolinas food culture and promoting local farmers, food artisans and entrepreneurs.
But the market got off to a rough start.
Foot traffic grew steadily but was sporadic, said Yoder. Consequently, many vendors closed early or came in late.
That frustrated customers, many of whom might have been visiting the market for the first time, Yoder said.
The market’s schedule also changed regularly – from seven days a week to six days a week, and then back to seven.
“I met someone (recently) who said he came in when 7th Street Market first opened and hadn’t bothered coming back,” Yoder said. But, he adds, “I told him it’s a different place now and is changing.’ ”
Now vendors say they’re hitting their stride. A lot has happened in 18 months, including a critical change in leadership. And with renewed efforts to connect with the community, they all believe they’re succeeding in their greater mission: to become a go-to destination for tourists, corporate folk, museum-goers and uptown residents alike.
The 17,000-square-foot space is located on the ground floor of the 7th Street Station parking deck, abutting the light rail. It occupies a space vacated by specialty grocer Reid’s Fine Foods, which relocated from uptown to Selwyn Avenue in 2010.
Freezers left over from Reid’s hold fresh produce and local farm products. Larger vendors, such as Pure Pizza, Cloud 9 Confections and Local Loaf bakery line the interior perimeter. Smaller vendors, such as Greeneman Farms and barCHOCOLATE maintain stands in the middle of the floor. Before joining 7th Street Public Market, Klebaur of Orrman’s Cheese Shop managed a shop at the Chelsea Market in New York City. The market was popular, but there was little interaction between the vendors.
That’s not the case here, Klebaur says. At 7th Street Public Market, the vendors suggest other vendors’ wares. They support one another on social media. They buy ingredients from one another.
Seafood from Meat & Fish Co. fills Bonsai Fusion’s sushi. Pure Pizza pies are topped with vegetables bought from the Greeneman Farms stand. Klebaur’s cheese will often appear on brunch dishes served at Adam Spears’ Local Loaf bakery.
Yoder says barCHOCOLATE will use Not Just Coffee’s beans for some of their desserts. One of Small Keys’s craft soaps has concentrated brewed coffee.
And the wine the coffee bar sells by the glass? It comes from The Tasting Table, located just across an aisle.
“It’s kind of neat to have that cross-pollination and promotion between the businesses,” he says.
Vendors say the market’s executive director Mike Restaino has been critical to its success.
Restaino, a former retail executive with more than 40 years of experience at Belk, J.C. Penney and Goody’s, took over in February.
Early on, he met with every vendor to establish a set number of days and hours they must be open. And he began working with individual vendors to best display their products.
Spears, whose Local Loaf shop is just inside the 7th Street entrance, says Restaino told him to paint his wall-mounted menu boards dark brown – to give a “hearty grain” feel – and use white chalk to set it off. At Restaino’s suggestion, he also moved the loaf pans and utensils to a wire shelf, visible from the counter, to help people feel invested in the process.
“Now it ties in with the overall market,” Spears says.
And because 7th Street Public Market is a nonprofit, these vendors – and the market as a whole – are involved in the community.
Every weekend there’s a different event, ranging from cookie-baking competitions among the city’s top chefs to pancake breakfasts for firefighters.
“With support, two years from now, five years from now, it can be an iconic, grounded place with more roots in it,” Yoder said. “Every month is busier than the one before.”
McMillan: 704-358-6045 On Twitter: @cbmcmillan
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