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Three years in, NoLi’s Night Market draws thousands of participants, expands its vendor base

The Night Market takes place the first Friday of each month March through February on Bryan Avenue.
The Night Market takes place the first Friday of each month March through February on Bryan Avenue.

Over its three-year history, the North Limestone Night Market has come to define the evolving look of the area around the North Limestone corridor.

That’s something that Griffin VanMeter, the founding presence behind the NoLi Community Development Corporation, is delighted to see: thousands of people in a shared space, supporting area businesses and vendors who come to the night market.

“To me it’s a really magical wonderful thing that many people can meet in a common space and hang out,” VanMeter said. “There’s a lot of great neighbor interaction that happens.”

For vendors, “The worst you’re going to do is get in front of thousands of people.”

The market, in fact, allows vendors who don’t sell enough to make back their fee — $75 for food vendors, $25 for stall vendors — to have the money refunded. So far, only one vendor has claimed that offer, and only for a partial amount.

We just want to make sure that we’re enhancing the neighborhood and not hurting the neighborhood.

Griffin Van Meter, founder of the Night Market

The group received funds last year from the city to make the area more pedestrian friendly, and is starting to do stakeholder engagement. The Bryan Avenue cut-through area is being studied, as is the odd traffic pattern of the left turn off Loudon onto Bryan headed toward Castlewood Park.

“We just want to make sure that we’re enhancing the neighborhood and not hurting the neighborhood,” VanMeter said. “But I do think there’s an opportunity to make it more pedestrian-friendly and parklike.”

Samantha Johnson, who joined the NoLi CDC in February as director of communications and events, wants Lexingtonians to know that the North Limestone monthly pop-up market embraces the full diversity of the northside area.

Johnson manages the Night Market, which runs monthly from April to December each year.

While the Night Market draws thousands of participants, Johnson said, it needed to more fully reflect its neighborhood — which includes a large range of incomes and cultures. Johnson said that the market was getting a reputation among some as being for white hipsters — which she said is not the case.

“It’s taken a lot of work to convince other cultures to come out and enjoy this market,” Johnson said in a phone interview this week. “I would try to tap on the shoulder a vendor of color, saying, ‘This is what we’re doing. We would love to have you there.’”

Bringing in more vendors of color means that their friends and family also come to the Night Market, which makes the market more as the NoLi development group originally conceived it.

I would try to tap on the shoulder a vendor of color, saying, ‘This is what we’re doing. We would love to have you there.’

Samantha Johnson, manager of the Night Market

For example, the food available from the nearby restaurant Maria’s Kitchen — which features modestly-priced but authentic Mexican food and has a brick-and-mortar restaurant at the corner of North Broadway and Loudon Avenue — has established itself as a Night Market top food vendor.

“Originally it was just different neighbors that would come out from the neighborhood and they would sell things they didn’t want, like VHS tapes,” Johnson said in a phone interview. “It was very low-scale. I attended the first one. ... But I had not been back to another one before I had this job.”

The Night Market has exploded in popularity since its debut in 2013, when an initial night market hoped to draw 300 to 400 participants. The market’s “pop-up” design was inspired by the idea of “temporary urbanization,” changing a space to engage the community and encourage relationships between creative people and the public.

Johnson said, “We are for everybody.”

Cheryl Truman: 859-231-3202, @CherylTruman.

If you go

Night Market

What: The night market is a monthly street festival put on by North Limestone Community Development Corporation to benefit businesses, artists and non-profits in the neighborhood.

When: 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Nov. 4

Where: 700 block of Bryan Ave. The block is temporarily closed to traffic on the day of the market.

Admission: Free and open to the public

Note: The final Night Market of 2016 will be Dec. 2.

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