As the fourth annual Night Market season kicks off on Friday, May 12, organizers reflect on the positive impacts of the event’s growth.
When I was asked to participate in the first Night Market in 2013, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Once I learned more about the event, however, I was flattered that someone like me—a publisher of small independent magazines (“zines”) and organizer of The Kentucky Fried Zine Fest—would be invited to hawk my wares at such a unique neighborhood street festival. I asked a few friends, who are also organizers of KFZ, as we call it, to join me.
Although my husband and I have since bought a house in Lexington’s North Limestone (NoLi) neighborhood, at the time I was living in an apartment on Second Street. I was familiar with the North Limestone area, particularly its drinking establishments like Al’s Bar and Arcadium. I’d also spent numerous mornings getting my sugar and caffeine fix at North Lime Coffee and Donuts, eaten memorable meals at Minton’s at 760 and had my hair done by the stylish folks at Fleet Street Hair Shoppe. But I wasn’t entirely prepared for the happening scene we encountered when we walked up to the 700 block of Bryan Avenue for the first Night Market.
The street was closed off and strings of electric lights sparkled overhead. Food trucks were parked nearby, and musicians were busy setting up. We were greeted by an affable young man and led to the space that was designated for our table. Shortly after we finished setting up, people began to wander in. We spent the rest of the evening chatting about our organization with folks from the neighborhood and other areas of Lexington, and even sold a handful of t-shirts and posters. The smell of food was in the air, and conversations and music could be heard from all directions. The head count at that initial event was expected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 people, but more than 1,000 attended. It felt like the start of something exciting.
Since that evening, the Night Market has become a much-anticipated seasonal event, held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on the first Friday of the month April through December. It’s always free and open to the public. (Due to inclement weather, the first Market of the 2017 season will take place on Friday, May 12.)
The success of Night Market and other community events has helped spur efforts to make NoLi more pedestrian and bike friendly, encourage new businesses to locate in the neighborhood, and to garner support for initiatives to increase the availability of quality, affordable housing. Night Market has also helped raise awareness of the district throughout the city. As journalist Cheryl Truman wrote in a 2016 Herald-Leader article: “The market’s ‘pop-up’ design is inspired by the idea of ‘temporary urbanization,’ changing a space to engage the community and encourage relationships between creative people and the public.”
That engagement fits right in with the mission of the North Limestone Development Corporation (NoLi CDC), a non-profit organization working to facilitate fair and unbiased community development in the neighborhood. In addition to organizing the Night Market, NoLi CDC also supports projects to ensure affordable housing, enhance public spaces, promote cultural events, increase access to social services, connect residents with resources and opportunities, and preserve local landmarks and architecture.
For Samantha Johnson, NoLi CDC’s director of communication and events, the Night Market is a shining example of community in action, as well as a vehicle to generate dialogue about the organization—and to dispel some of the misconceptions that have cropped up around the event and its intended audience.
“When I first saw the hashtag #whitemarket, I knew I had to work to educate people that this not a white hipster party,” says Johnson, who has a marketing background and joined the NoLi CDC in February 2016. “Once I got comfortable in my position, I began to do my own personal outreach to vendors of color and say, ‘This is what we’re doing, please come.’ We want to increase diversity, but we don’t want not push anyone out, either. What I really want to get across is that this is for everybody.”
What I really want to get across is that this is for everybody.
She suggests cultural differences and language barriers may have something to do with the misconceptions, and that people may perceive the Night Market as too “high end” for them. When in reality, food and drink prices are reasonable, and vendor booth rates are among the lowest in the city—starting at just $25. Plus, she adds, vendors who don’t sell enough to cover their costs can request a refund.
Johnson is confident that her work will pay off and that NoLi residents from all walks of life will come to appreciate the Night Market for what it is—an all-inclusive celebration of local makers and businesses.
“If you don’t think so, you’ll just have to come out and see what I see,” she says.
As for me, I’ve come to appreciate the Night Market as more than a street festival. It’s neighbors coming together to enjoy the space we all share, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.