There’s a lot happening uptown. The outline of the BB&T Ballpark continues to reshape the skyline of Third Ward, and nearby Romare Bearden Park is expected to open at the end of the month.
Charlotte center city continues to be a leading Southeast business hub with the more recent additions of Chiquita Brands, Chobani, Tire Intelligence and Heels.com.
Uptown is quite the center for higher education featuring colleges and universities, home-grown and satellite campuses, as well as schools of law, nursing, health sciences, divinity, and hospitality.
In the past year center city added more than 350,000 square feet of new office space, and $300 million in residential projects are currently in progress.
In the heart of all this dynamic growth is 7th Street Public Market. Located in First Ward between College Street and Brevard, 7th Street Public Market is carving out its own unique role in uptown.
Exposed pipes, industrial lighting and concrete floors give the 13,589-square-foot 7th Street Public Market an open, urban cool feel and creates the perfect backdrop for its 18 vendors who offer products ranging from organic and local produce to wines and beers, cheeses, specialty salts, vegan body products, fresh meat and fish, teas and spices, chocolates, fresh flowers and baked goods.
The Market also hosts several eateries where customers can enjoy coffee, pizza, sushi or sandwiches made from artisan breads baked on site.
A Place for Everyone
Adjacent to the current last station of the light rail, the 7th Street Public Market is a natural stopping place for commuters to grab an early morning cup of coffee or pick up healthy snacks. Mike Restaino, 7th Street Public Market’s executive director, attests to the many different groups of people that transition through the Market daily.
“During the weekdays, the early crowd consists of ‘grab and go’ professionals,” Restaino explains, “but by midmorning I see a huge influx of either families, or mothers and their girlfriends with babies. It’s a large, open space so families feel comfortable bringing in strollers, and it’s near ImaginOn so people come here before or after their ImaginOn visit and kids love to sit outside, have a treat and watch the trains come in.
“Then there’s the lunch crowd of uptown workers, and in the afternoon we get another family crowd. At night, it’s the people from work again or residents from First or Fourth Ward who want to come to a location where they can just relax and eat with their friends.
“It’s also turning into a destination for business meetings,” Restaino adds. “One businesswoman, who does recruiting for a local bank, conducts all her business interviews here at the Market.”
7th Street Public Market continues to grow; 2013 revenues are up roughly 70 percent over 2012, and two new vendors came aboard this past year. Restaino comments that all of the Market vendors are either hiring or expanding.
“Some businesses like Not Just Coffee are now expanding to two other locations, and because of its phenomenal success, barChocolate has recently hired both chefs and accountants.” Affirms Restaino. “We’re getting the sense here in the Market that we are ready to give back to the community in the form of an economic engine.”
And giving back is key because 7th Street Public Market is a market with a mission.
A Place for Wellness
“7th Street Public Market is a nonprofit,” explains Restaino. “We’re a 501(c)(3) whose primary mission is to support wellness and healthcare by supporting local farmers and food vendors and artisans to promote better eating.
“Buying local, eating local and educating people about how they can use the fruits, vegetables, meats and other products available at the Market can lead to a better, healthier lifestyle.”
The Market’s mission fits well with the goals and businesses of its founding sponsor, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, and its presenting sponsor, Carolinas Medical Center.
Ellison Clary, director of Charlotte Community Relations for founding sponsor Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, agrees: “Blue Cross Blue Shield was looking to play a major sponsor in something like this Market because we’re all about healthy lifestyles, life improvement and fighting obesity. The Market does all three.”
One of the 20 stations for Charlotte B-cycle, the largest urban bike share program in the Southeast, is outside the Market. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina provided the grant for the program.
“In the future there’s going to be a park across the street from the Market,” Clary continues. “The park, the bike share program, and the Market—all of these make perfect sense for us.”
7th Street Public Market has 14 supporting sponsors: Allen Tate, Bank of America, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, Carolinas HealthCare System, Charlotte Center City Partners, Compass Group, Conder Flag, Foundation for the Carolinas, Grant Thornton, Johnson & Wales University, OrthoCarolina, Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein, Rodgers Builders, and Winstead Attorneys.
Supporting sponsors are active in the Market’s fundraising Farm to Fork Dinner Series. Restaino explains, “We have four dinners a year where businesses can bring associates and clients or solicit business. They can give them a special night out that’s different from a steakhouse or restaurant.
“The Market is a very different environment and as you can imagine, the food is wonderful. It’s a positive, high energy kind of experience and guests realize they’re doing something good to support the Market.”
Outside parties have also discovered the Market as a unique venue. “We’ve hosted the Latin American Chamber of Commerce’s Tapas Night and in July, the French American Chamber of Commerce held their Bastille Day celebration here.
“It was unbelievable, with jugglers, accordion players and a performer on stilts. For the first two hours, it was open to the public who could buy tickets and try all the French culinary treats like crepes and macaroons and quiches that our vendors had specially prepared.
“At one time that night we had over 300 people here. Every table was full. There was music. It was pure energy. People are beginning to see that the Market can be a tremendously dynamic place.”
Supporting sponsor Charlotte Center City Partners is heavily involved in helping the Market with the dinner series. The organization, whose goal is to facilitate and promote economic and cultural development in Charlotte’s urban core, also provides the Market with assistance in areas of marketing, promotion and operational administration.
“Charlotte Center City Partners has always been invested in the vision of a green market in Center City,” explains Lelia King, Charlotte Center City Partner’s director of communication. “7th Street Public Market is exactly what we need here.”
King cites the growth of 20 to 30 year olds moving into uptown. “People who live here, people who work here and the roughly 11 million visitors to the city annually are all a huge customer base for the Market,” she adds. “It’s the kind of place people want in the city.”
A Place for Growth
7th Street Public Market not only provides a unique experience for its customers, it also provides a unique opportunity for its vendors. Restaino explains, “The second mission of 7th Street Public Market is to be an incubator for new businesses. We work with new businesses to see if they have a viable business plan.
“I’ve also talked with the board recently to see if there are further opportunities, from an educational standpoint, to provide these businesses with information on systems, technology, accounting or insurance. We’ve been brainstorming to see how we could provide these resources to them.
“What’s unique about the Market’s business model is that we are looking for business synergies. Prospective vendors go through a selection process to determine not only their viability but also to determine if they can ‘lift’ the Market. Their business has to fit within the mission of the Market and work well with the other businesses here.
“For example, I didn’t really envision a vegan baker for the Market, but after listening to the customers, I knew that having Novel Sweets here would be an opportunity to service the market and educate the consumer about a different business. The businesses here all have tremendous knowledge about their products that they can share.
“The synergies here are really special. The vendors support each other. Novel Sweets uses ingredients from Salts of the Earth. Homeland Creamery, with their local dairy, supplies the milk used at Not Just Coffee. Local Loaf uses Homeland Creamery products for their baking.
“Not only do these relationships create camaraderie among vendors, but it also helps each other financially. It’s a unique environment that goes back to the business selection process.”
Local Loaf was chosen as a vendor from among 15 applicants. Owner and Executive Chef Adam Spears always had the goal of starting his own business and after graduating from Ohio State and getting his culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University he worked in town with Chef Charles Catering as well as Global Restaurant and Heist Brewery.
When it came time to realize his goal, Spears says the 7th Street Public Market was a natural choice. “When I moved here I started baking breads and traveling to farmers’ markets. I loved selling one-on-one to customers so I purposefully targeted this market for my first business.
“The Market allows me to have a good rent price, a great location and the ability to work with multiple talented vendors to make what I do a success.
“The best thing about the Market is the partnership we have with each other. It’s definitely a community atmosphere.
“There’s a mentality that all of us here are stepping out on our own with everything that we have and putting it forth to give the customer the best opportunity to get not only great foods and products but also a great atmosphere.”
The aspect of community was important to Restaino too, who comes to 7th Street Public Market after more than 40 years in retail with industry successes like Belk Store Services, Goody’s Family Clothing and JC Penney.
“I thought everything within these walls could make a great urban community market. I had a vision of what it could be,” says Restaino.
Restaino, who lives uptown and serves on the board of directors of The Friends of Fourth Ward, The 10th Street Townhome Association and the nonprofit Joedance Film Festival, wanted to make a difference.
Initially, Restaino thought his comprehensive experience in areas like store management, marketing, sourcing, buying, importing, logistics, compliance and store presentation would be the primary tool he would use to grow the Market.
“I talk to the vendors on a daily basis to give them suggestions on visual presentation, assortment mix or inventory control, and some have come to me and asked for input about the right time to expand or advice on what might support their brand.”
But Restaino has found that his people skills have been the most helpful. “The Market has 18 vendors. That translates to 18 different personalities I need to motivate and to make sure we’re all pointed in the same direction. I also have to successfully work within our board and with our sponsors to support our vision for the Market and to be the face of the Market within the community.”
The Market has become a destination place for the community by hosting special events every Saturday like July’s Firefighters’ Pancake Breakfast, the upcoming Cookie Crumble and the season-long Green Market Saturdays with an expanded array of vendors and themes like ice cream, camping or peaches.
“When people learn how the community is benefiting from the Market, I’m hoping that more individuals and businesses might want to become more engaged in the Market, maybe even as sponsors,” says Restaino. “Our hope is that 7th Street Public Market becomes an iconic location in uptown Charlotte.”
Photo by Fenix Fotography www.fenixfoto.com