Two community markets in New Kensington held less than a block apart, at Voodoo Brewing and Knead Community Cafe, on Saturday gave local vendors an opportunity to showcase their wares and attract new customers.
Michelle Thom, who owns Voodoo Brewing, and Jamie Parker, who owns a New Kensington bakery called Sweet Alchemy, have teamed up to spearhead the Voodoo Brewing event.
Dubbed Fairies, Flowers, and Fun: A Spring Celebration, their event brought about 20 small business vendors — selling everything from homemade crafts to custom tumblers — to the lawn outside the brewery.
The idea was to host a family-friendly event to welcome in spring, support small businesses and revamp New Kensington’s downtown area, Thom said.
The duo hosted four prior community markets, Parker said, and plan to have another free event on Saturday, July 9 on Fifth Avenue, featuring local restaurants and alcohol vendors, as well as fire dancers and artists.
“If people come and have fun, that’s a win for us,” Parker said. “We want people to see there are positive things happening in this community.”
For Melissa Jackson, a local photographer who had a tent set up for photos on Saturday, the most exciting part of the market was that it played a part in revamping her hometown of New Kensington.
“It’s exciting,” she said of what she sees as a recent revitalization of the area. “It’s inspiring, motivational. I want to be a part of it.”
Jackson operates a photography business in downtown New Kensington that focuses on “women empowerment.” It offers photo sessions for young girls to dress as princesses or fairies. Her goal, she said, is to help people reconnect with themselves — much like the goal of these community markets is to help people reconnect with their community.
She said she was hopeful that the influx of small businesses in the area and the emergence of community events and markets will draw people into New Kensington, and allow people who live there to become more involved in a community that has recently had a bad reputation for some people
“You’d be surprised at what’s going on down here,” she said. “It’s the new New Kensington.”
Pamela Williams, a New Kensington firefighter who was helping at the market, said she once again feels proud to live in New Kensington.
“There’s a lot more going on in the community,” she said. “People are getting involved.”
As people gather at events like Saturday’s market, small businesses get a boost, said Megan Igo, who was manning a booth for Dear Neighbors Craft, a small business she launched in December that sells homemade woodworking.
“This brings the community out. It gets our name out there,” she said. “We’ve been inundated with invitations [to community markets]. More things like this help the community to be better.”
Myriah McKenzie, of Springdale, perused the booths with Chrissy Dibas, of Lower Burrell early Saturday afternoon. McKenzie said they wanted to visit some of the small, local businesses in the area and decided to stop by the market, too.
“I like to support small businesses,” she said. “I just like to support local people instead of Amazon and big corporations.”
“It just seems nicer when things are handmade,” Dibas added.
Meanwhile, over at Knead Cafe
Nearby, Knead Community Cafe hosted their Mother Nature’s Garden Market, which boasted local vendors selling plant-based, natural products.
The pay-what-you-can cafe hosted a similar event under a different name last year, and hopes to make it an annual tradition, said co-founder Mary Bode. This year, the event drew about 15 local vendors and several hundred people, she said.
“This market is a way to attract new people to the New Kensington region,” Bode said, adding that she, too, feels that the area is being reimagined.
When the cafe opened about six years ago, she said, it was the only business on the block. Opening the cafe there felt like “a risk and a gamble,” she said, but it was one that paid off. Bode said she is now excited to watch more new businesses open their doors.
“There’s so much going on in New Kensington, you could almost plan a little day trip,” she said.
Amber Wilson, of New Kensington, was selling herbs and herbal tea from her new online business Her Herbs Heal, which she launched about a year ago. Saturday’s event marked her first community market.
“I’m so happy I did it,” she said. “Everybody’s been super friendly. Everyone’s super supportive.”
Wilson said she had seen about 35 customers by early Saturday afternoon, and made more than enough to recoup the $35 fee to set up a table. For Wilson, it was an encouraging sign to see people supporting small businesses like hers — particularly after so many struggled through the pandemic and related restrictions.
“This is the year of small business,” Wilson said. “This is a good opportunity to watch small businesses bounce back.”
Other vendors at the garden market sold everything from plants to baked goods.
Delilah Miller, of Bellevue, was selling jellies and jams. Formerly Amish, she uses the Amish techniques for making jellies and jams, and gathers the ingredients from local farms, farmers’ markets and pick-it-yourself sites.
Though Miller said she sometimes participates in bigger events in the city, she said she prefers the small community markets that have a stronger community atmosphere.
“It’s about connecting,” she said. “It’s about community.”