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Weekend edition June 09, 2023 | Shannon Smith

The rise of the maker market

Maker markets are like farmer's markets and craft markets combined. Lately, there have been a ton of them popping up around Knoxville, with more on the way. Let's explore why.

If you’ve noticed and envied your friend’s clay earrings, original copy of a framed drawing, farm-fresh duck eggs, or hand-hammered metal wall art, chances are they didn’t get them at the mall or even online. They probably got them at a maker market.

Maker markets are just what they sound like – community markets where makers of all types can sell their goods. It’s in many ways a farmer’s market and craft market combined. And lately, there have been a ton of them. It’s hard to go a weekend in the spring and summer, especially without stumbling upon a maker market.

Just this weekend in Knoxville, you’ll find the Market Square Farmer’s Market downtown on Saturday morning, Vintage Market Days all weekend long at the Knoxville Expo Center, a specifically pickle-themed market at Crafty Bastard Brewery Saturday afternoon, Knox Makers Market just over the Henley Bridge in South Knoxville Sunday, and a whopping 145 vendors set up along Sevier Avenue for SoKno Pride all day Saturday.

To understand how the maker market scene has exploded and why, we reached out to local maker and baker Bailey Cooper, owner of Treats & Chill, who sells at markets every weekend.

“Treats & Chill is a farm-to-table bakery experience that specializes in dairy- and gluten-free desserts, herbal teas, and farm-fresh products like eggs and produce. The goal for the future is to create a space where people can eat good food that’s good for them, and learn more about being self-sufficient, whether that’s through starting a garden or just getting to know the food producers in their communities,” she said.

Bailey Cooper, owner of Treats & Chill, set up at a maker market in South Knoxville. Credit: Bailey Cooper.

Cooper said markets are a large part of her business and help her connect face-to-face with her customers.

“Having that connection makes me a better business owner and also shows me how I can best be a part of my community,” she said. “Because of these markets, I’ve been able to grow my business from the ground up and pursue my dream full-time.”

Cooper moved to Knoxville from the Northwest recently and started frequenting markets about a year and a half ago. She’s noticed some big growth in the maker community.

“I can definitely say more festivals and markets are always popping up around Knoxville and Maryville,” she said. “From what I’ve experienced it feels like a movement to get back to our local communities, to not shop at big box stores anymore but rather buy our food and gifts from those who actively support our local economy. I honestly love giving my money to a farmer that grows produce to make money for their family, or to buy a gift for a friend from someone who handmade it, rather than spending that money at a grocery store or big store.”

Her sentiment is shared by a lot of people in Knoxville. Just look at our community’s love of locally owned restaurants over chains. That same passion applies to handmade and homemade goods, making maker markets appealing to both shoppers and vendors.

“I think sellers have the opportunity to make money by pursuing something meaningful that makes them passionate to do what they do,” said Cooper. “Office jobs don’t fit for everyone, and neither do trade jobs. Due to the pandemic, I think a lot of people’s eyes were opened to the possibilities ahead of them if money wasn’t all they lived for. At least, that’s what happened to me. For buyers, knowing the people you get your items from is a big boost from seeing exactly how the chickens and ducks were raised for their eggs or exactly how a piece of clothing was made. Having that connection to our purchases makes people more appreciative of what they buy and builds a stronger community in the process.”

Maker markets won’t go away. We’d argue more may be coming, no matter where you live. So if you have a passion you want to sell even just on the side, Cooper offers some advice.

“Make sure you’ve got the basics like your business name, insurance, and basic marketing materials, and then just start,” she said. “I’m usually a huge planner, but if I waited to start until I was completely ready for it, I never would’ve started. The vendor community is so helpful and supportive, and many small businesses believe there’s enough success to go around. This city is also incredibly supportive of small entrepreneurs getting their start and is willing to give great feedback to help us grow. Don’t expect success overnight, it’ll be a slow process to gain your footing and find the customer base that best suits your business.”

You can check out the Treats & Chill website to learn more about Cooper’s products, and check out The Maker City for a list of upcoming maker markets in Knoxville.

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