Gasoline Alley Farmers’ Market has reaped retail success while cultivating budding entrepreneurs.
Opened in November, 2020 the indoor market just celebrated two years connecting central Albertans with local growers, brewers, bakers and other food producers along with small business owners providing everything from alpaca fibre products to metal and leather work to landscape photography and eco-friendly refillable containers.
The market is owned by a group of a dozen central Alberta investors was only open for a couple of months when demand led to expanding its weekend hours of operation to include Fridays. By February 2021, the Market Kitchen’s brewery and eateries were serving their first customers.
It did not come easy. Construction started in April 2020, a month after COVID-19 hit Alberta. When it opened its doors on Nov.21, a variety of pandemic-related health restrictions were still in place.
“That was a challenge, but we did well,” said general manager Shauna Fisher, who has been there since Day 1.
The market broke ground in many ways.
“This is the first purpose-built farmers market in Alberta,” said Fisher. “This is the first indoor, all-year-round market for Red Deer and central Alberta.”
As an Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation-approved operation, 80 per cent of vendors must make it, bake it, or sew it in Alberta by Albertans, she said. The other 20 per cent allows for approved B.C. fruit growers and other businesses based elsewhere to market their wares.
Since opening, hundreds of local businesses have been hosted at the farmers market and all 50 of its current permanent vendors are Alberta-owned.
For Fisher, the best part of her job is seeing small business owners find their niche and prosper.
“I love seeing the success of small businesses. A lot of our vendors came in as pop-ups and have become permanent vendors.”
Since the market opened, more than 100 pop-up vendors have showcased their wares for weekend stints. Some entrepreneurs have used the market as a springboard to opening their own stand-alone shop.
“The market here has been kind of an incubator for business,” said Fisher.
The market’s success has not gone unnoticed.
“I’ve had calls from people outside the province who want to duplicate it,” she said. “I’ve had visitors from other markets come here as well.”
Her advice to them is reach out to your local entrepreneurs and offer them an opportunity outside traditional brick and mortar or mall locations.
The market is not done finding new ways to help entrepreneurs and draw new customers.
“We’re always looking at doing new things,” she said.
Now that the pandemic is ebbing they are introducing a trivia night and karaoke events. They are also bringing in more workshops and have a new program aimed at helping young entrepreneurs get a start. A mezzanine can be rented out for private functions, such as parties or corporate events.
The ongoing goal is to turn a shopping trip into a family experience, by offering Easter egg hunts, Halloween- and summer-themed events, as well as live music and other activities.
For the Christmas season, Santa Claus arrives on Dec 17 and a Christmas Market is running from 11 a.m to 7 p.m. on Dec. 21-22 and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Dec. 23. A number of pop-up vendors will be adding their festive flair.
The market is open Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The Market Kitchen is open Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.