Local artisans who rely heavily on markets and festivals to sell their products were hard hit during the pandemic as many events were canceled, postponed, or reduced their capacities. In response, new opportunities popped up around Albuquerque for these creative vendors to showcase their goods. As the Downtown Growers’ Market kicks off Saturday, April 17, with more vendors and customers than last year, some of the pandemic-era solutions for local artists are set to stick around.
Amy Baca Lopez, a local artist and business owner, stood at her booth in the parking lot of OFFCenter Community Arts Project in Downtown Albuquerque, where she started The Little Market to promote local artisans when existing opportunities dwindled during the pandemic. “So, we have a backdrop of disco funky music,” she said, describing the market. “We have about 18 vendors here today. Anything from face masks and dresses,” she said, pointing to the booth next to hers, “and I have myself, greeting cards, acrylic paint on canvas. Then there’s some pottery, lots of jewelry,” she said.
Baca Lopez is a longtime vendor at the Downtown Growers’ Market. When the pandemic first struck last March, the market was deemed an “essential” business like a grocery store, but that meant no artisans. I spoke with Baca Lopez last year about how it felt to be cut out. “It’s kind of like getting an email saying that I lost my job,” she said, “but I knew that it was coming.”
The Growers’ Market ended up opening last April with artisans included, but as an online “farm-to-car” market. Longtime market vendor Michael Wieclaw, owner of the local apparel business Metal The Brand, said the online market wasn't the same for those not selling food. “You know, people would just order a sticker or two,” he said, “and when they do that, I don’t really make anything.”
By July of 2020, the Downtown Growers’ Market was back at Albuquerque's Robinson Park, but at 25 percent capacity. Market manager, Danielle Schlobohm said they maintained a focus on the essential food products, but brought a few artisans in as they had room. “We saw a significant decrease in farmer vendors, and some food vendors, due to the pandemic. A lot of them just didn’t feel safe coming out," she said. "So, we just really had to fill those spots to operate financially.”
Along with slim chances at the farmers market, several large festivals that many artisans rely on were canceled last year. Wieclaw with Metal The Brand said registered businesses like his, with years of books, were better positioned than less-established artisans. “What happened was, any sort of gig-type money stopped, so you had to rely on reporting all of these things to people to give you money,” he said. “And a lot of the people that needed to report aren’t– they’re not capable of it or they don’t have it. Those people were affected the most.”
He has a store in addition to showing at the markets and was able to get some COVID-relief funding. “I was able to stay on track with where I wanted my business to be,” he said. Wieclaw said he received a small PPP loan, a 30-year Economic Injury Disaster Loan, “and the $10,000 from the city. Thank you, Mayor Keller or City Council? Whoever. That was awesome," he added.
Baca Lopez said she applied for the city’s Micro-Business Relief Grant but didn’t get it. “I met every single aspect of the criteria, but the letter that I received said, ‘Sorry, we just had an overwhelming response,’” she said.
She received unemployment for a time. But to keep her business afloat, she needed opportunities to get her products in front of customers. It’s why she started the Little Market. She also participated in the ABQ Art Walk thanks to its new partnership with the Downtown Growers’ Market. Manager Scholbohm said the market partnered with Art Walk last year when they realized they wouldn’t be able to offer artisans as many spaces. “I was trying to figure out other ways to get them opportunities,” she said. “So, I help organize vendor spaces and help bring whoever wants to come to Art Walk, as far as people who’ve applied at the Growers’ Market.”
The Growers’ Market will continue partnering with Art Walk, even as they kick off their 2021 season this week with more vendors, a higher capacity, and artists. Though Schlobohm said that almost didn’t happen. “We were being told by the Environmental Health Department at the city that we weren’t going to be able to have non-food vendors,” she said. “So, we did a lot of advocating, and they did change that at the state level.”
Schlobohm said that while Bernalillo County is in the yellow level for COVID restrictions, the market will have about 75 percent the number of vendors as before the pandemic, with artisans making up about a quarter of those. She said that’ll grow if restrictions ease later in the season.
Artist Baca Lopez said she plans to sell at the Downtown Growers’ Market, but that doesn’t mean she’s shutting down her stop-gap event. She said Little Market is here to stay, adding one more opportunity for local artists to make a living as old stand-bys reemerge.
The Downtown Growers’ Market opens Saturday, April 17, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Robinson Park. The Little Market is held on the second Sunday of every month in the parking lot of OFFCenter Community Arts Project from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.