Here Comes The Neighborhood

Four volunteers open the new Whiteaker Community Market

Jocelyn Lescarbeau, Claire Schechtman, Shelby Meyers, Caitlin Jemma
Jocelyn Lescarbeau, Claire Schechtman, Shelby Meyers, Caitlin JemmaPhoto by Javier Magellan's

If nature truly abhors a vacuum, why are we left with so much space? Look around you. There are gaps in places you never expected, emptiness where life should have flourished. But does emptiness not equal potential? Every masterpiece begins life as a canvas.

Take, for example, the gravel lot at 5th and Blair. Currently, it is just that — an empty space — but four local ladies saw through the void to the treasure hidden beyond.

Thanks to the vision of Claire Schechtman, Shelby Meyers, Caitlin Jemma and Jocelyn Lescarbeau, the Whiteaker neighborhood is getting an artisan farmers market: The Whiteaker Community Market will be held 4 to 8 pm Thursdays, now through September, in the open space behind Astro Station.

After months of planning, gathering permits, locking down vendors, zoning, insurance, building relationships with neighboring businesses and gaining approval from Whiteaker Community Council president Sam Hahn, the market is finally coming to fruition. The founders say they’ve worked hard to ensure that this will benefit the rapidly changing neighborhood; they see it as a way to guide the oft-vilified gentrification process.

“Gentrification can mean whatever you want it to at this point,” Schechtman says. “For me, [the market] is more about taking this inevitable transformation into the neighborhood’s hands.”

The Community Market is official, under a registered LLC, which will inevitably draw comparisons to the ever-thriving Saturday Market downtown. However, the founders are not interested in competing, or even comparing. They simply see their market as an extension of the market subculture, a way to bring more artisan commerce and produce to the neighborhood while offering a unique experience.

“There’s not really artisan shops in the Whiteaker,” says Jemma, who has lived in the neighborhood off-and-on since 2009. “Other than Red Barn, there’s not really much fresh produce, either. The market solves that problem.”

She adds: “Our other intention was to let people meet the farmer and artist. A big part of having a farmers market is the social aspect of it, and having a platform on which to network.”

In order to maintain this platform, the seemingly unassuming gravel lot at 5th and Blair actually plays a massive role. In fact, the market’s future — and with it the beginnings of a neighborhood-wide beautification project — may hinge on the permanent seizure of that lot by the Whiteaker Community Council, which as of now is attempting to buy it.

In order to aid in this process, the founders of the Community Market plan to re-inject most of the money they make (via vendors fees and a 5-percent sales take) into the purchasing effort. This means that folks spending at the market, as well as those signing up to vend, are investing in the future of what could become a neighborhood staple.

“Bottom line,” Meyers says, “there’s just not a market in the Whiteaker. This adds an activity that doesn’t involve drinking. It encourages people to come here and do something else.”

“It provides a space where people can come and contribute to the neighborhood in a positive way by being part of this co-creation,” Lescarbeau adds. “We have the gift of being able to love and create freely, and we want to help foster that in other people too.

“That’s what we’re here for — to live and connect with one another, and enjoy life.”

The Whiteaker Community Market starts 4 to 8 pm Thursday, May 5, in the gravel lot between W. 5th  and W. 6th avenues on Blair Boulevard. For more information on vendors, volunteer opportunities and booth applications, visit the Whiteaker Community Market Facebook page.