The popular Rockford City Market got off to a late start this year because of the Covid-19 crisis, but it’s growing each week as restrictions loosen up and new ways to operate are implemented, says Market Manager Cathy McDermott.
“It’s hard to predict the future, but we’re adding more vendors every week and as we move into the fourth phase by the end of this month, we hope to have more of our vendors return and to add live music,” she says.
In its third week, the city market got approval from the Winnebago County Health Department to add tables, chairs and beverages. People are still encouraged to social distance and will be asked to spend a limited amount of time at tables for six on Market and Water streets. Vendors with pre-packaged foods that don’t need to be kept cool or warm and are prepared in a certified community kitchen, will start selling their products.
The beverages will be served alongside six food trucks on Madison Street: Wok n Roll by Bamboo, the Churros, Cantina Taco, Disco Chicken, Hicks BBQ and Catering, and Jammin Jerk Grill. Music is provided by Midwest Radio. Prairie Street and Pigs Mind brewing companies will soon join LaMonica Beverages at the market.
New vendors and products this year include Eagle Hill Flowers of Oregon; Louis Leathers of Rockford; gourmet mushrooms by Primordia Foods of Bloomington; mixed media art, photography and canvas prints from 815 of Rockford; a variety of garlic, garlic powder and dips from Midwest Gourmet Garlic of Beloit; cookies, cakes and cupcakes by The Gluten Free Girlfriend of Belvidere; hand-pulled, screen-printed T-shirts and hoodies by Unstated Apparel of Rockford; and lotions, soaps and bath products by Verite Skin Care of Rockford.
Planning this year’s market has been a “real challenge,” and the market layout changes weekly to accommodate vendors and visitors while adhering to federal, state and local guidelines.
About 30 vendors are set up in the pavilion, spaced far enough apart so people can socially distance. Most sell produce, fresh flowers, dog treats, cheeses, soaps, jewelry, skin care items and hanging plants. Some vendors can’t sell on site, but take orders and pre-orders.
A 1,500 square-foot certified community kitchen opened last July on the third floor of the indoor market, 116 N. Madison St. It has three work stations, three hand washing sinks, a double food prep sink, a 10-burner stove, two double-stack convection ovens, refrigerator and freezer space, and a 60-quart mixer.
The kitchen is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can be reserved by the hour or on a regular schedule for preparing foods to sell or cater, says Kitchen Manager Judy Johnson, owner of the indoor market’s Quixotic Bakery. She uses the kitchen to bake cookies, cakes, brownies, cinnamon rolls and more.
Johnson got her start at a church ministry, helping kids to bake goods to raise money and learn job skills, before she began using her baking skills to earn money. She built a large enough following to open a retail store. She stayed open during the shutdown by filling curbside pickup orders. She’s now open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
To make the most of a difficult time, she partnered with local non-profits to raise money. The Warm Cookie Bake began in May. Boxes of four big warm cookies with caramel or hot fudge dip sell for $12. Non-profits get about 40 percent of the sales. Contact Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cooking classes for children and adults were supposed to begin in March at the kitchen but will be scheduled when allowed, due to the pandemic.
Judy Perrecone, Certified Nutrition Consultant and owner of Perrecone Wellness, will offer the classes.
“We tend to eat the same things all the time and I want to help people learn about something new and different, which can be intimidating to do on your own,” says Perrecone. “I want to educate people about the ingredients they will be using, where they come from, how they can be used and the nutritional value.”
McDermott says the indoor market rents out small or large spaces for meetings, weddings and other events, hosts year-round activities and offers the kitchen rental.
“The market has become an entity all its own that encourages entrepreneurs to start a business or grow a business by getting exposure,” she says.
“It’s a great forum for small businesses to grow and make adjustments based on what they learn is and isn’t working for them.”
City Market began in 2010 and traditionally opens in mid-May. This year, the market opened June 5 and will continue from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. every Friday through Sept. 25. ❚