Most people know Rockford City Market offers a fun opportunity to stroll along the riverfront with loved ones, browse the wares of local vendors and listen to outdoor live music in summer and fall.
Not everyone knows it’s much more than that.
The market has a year-round indoor space at 116 N. Madison St., where small businesses sell their goods. The restored turn-of-the-century building offers spaces people can rent for meetings, weddings and other events. People can attend year-round activities and classes there, explains Cathy McDermott, executive director of Rock River Development Partnership, the owner of Rockford City Market. There’s a large, licensed commercial kitchen that can be rented by fledgling businesses. Plans are underway to offer cooking classes in the kitchen, both for children and adults.
“It has become an entity all its own with both an indoor facility and outdoor market where people from the community can get together to buy locally grown produce and handmade goods, encouraging entrepreneurs to start a business, or grow a business by getting exposure,” says McDermott. “It’s a great forum where small businesses can grow and make adjustments based on what is and isn’t working for them.”
This spring, the The Velvet Robot Coffee Lab will open inside the indoor market. It debuted at the outdoor market last summer and was so popular that its owner, Rockford native Justin Carner, applied to open a full menu location inside the market.
Other tenants inside the indoor city market include Crust and Crumbles, an artisan bakery café offering breads, croissants, Danishes and other baked good as well as coffee and breakfast items on Saturday; Ronit’s Kitchen, offering Mediterranean-style cuisine inspired by generations of family recipes from Israel; and Quixotic Bakery, which sells ice cream, bakery items and chocolates.
Several other local businesses got their start at the outdoor market, including Woodfire Brick Oven Pizza, Bella Luna Bakery, Bath & Body Fusion, The Canine Crunchery and Candle Crest Soy Candles.
McDermott emphasizes that local businesses play a vital role in any community and the city market is a good forum to help them get off the ground.
“Local businesses are important because they’re the heart of your city and it needs to be a vibrant heart,” she says. “Larger stores and chain restaurants have their purpose, but when people are looking for a place to work and live, they want to see a unique downtown with local businesses and lots of activities and events that are a part of the local life.”
It’s a trend happening nationwide.
About 50 years ago, urban sprawl pushed people and businesses out of downtowns to malls and the suburbs. Today, communities everywhere are seeing a revival of downtowns as a place where people can get many of their needs met within a walkable space.
In Rockford, the outdoor city market has grown every year and has helped to revive the downtown. It raises the visibility of the downtown, attracting visitors from surrounding counties and beyond. Today, more than 70 vendors attract more than 100,000 people each summer.
Vendor applications are being accepted beginning in February for the upcoming season. Hours will be 3:30 to 8:30 p.m. every Friday May 15 to Sept. 25. (7:30 p.m. closing after Labor Day).
The outdoor market features local growers and vendors who sell handmade products including vegetables, fruit, eggs, meat, cheeses, flowers, herbs, baked goods, beer, wine and prepared food and more. Most vendors originate within 150 miles of Rockford.
McDermott said the market is always looking to include more farmers and locally grown produce. It offers them a special reduced vendor rate to encourage participation. Future plans include having more onsite cooking demonstrations so people can get ideas for how to use the produce.
The “footprint” of the outdoor market has grown to include East State Street to the south and the Jefferson Street bridge to the north; Water Street to the west and the Market Street alley to the east.
The market, which began in June 2010, expanded in the spring of 2019 to include the indoor market, which is open from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
The market hall, which is among the larger event spaces in the indoor market, is accessible from the outdoor pavilion. It offers additional space for vendors, a portable bar and additional seating for eating, drinking and getting out of the sun during the summer season. ❚