Editorials, Opinion

What if we tried traveling summer pop-up markets?

After a cold and dreary start to spring, we’re finally starting to see weather that almost looks like summer.  And like the perennial flowers in well-tended gardens, the local farmers markets have sprung up again — which got us thinking.

Last year, in the thick of the pandemic, farmers markets presented the perfect opportunity for stir-crazy locals to get outside and do some of their shopping without crowding into big box stores. But even as daily case numbers drop and mask mandates begin to lift, some people are wary of jumping back into pre-pandemic “life as normal” and many small businesses continue to struggle.

Here’s our thought: What if, this summer, Morgantown tried pop-up markets?

Morgantown and its surrounding areas have multiple business hubs: Downtown, University Town Centre and Suncrest Towne Centre. But a lot of Morgantown’s neighborhoods are strictly residential, and most of the city’s denizens have to drive to get to the closest grocery store.

Many of those same neighborhoods have parks or other public spaces that would be perfect for a pop-up market.

When we say “market,” we’re thinking more along the lines of Star City’s Friday night market, which is a combination of fresh produce and local craftsmen, or the kind of open air markets you might see in large cities, with local restaurants and shops manning booths, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables and small shops peddling their goods.

The idea is to bring Morgantown’s wide variety of small businesses to residents, instead of depending on residents to seek out local businesses.

The open-air aspect makes it COVID-friendly, which should appeal to those still wary of contracting or spreading the coronavirus. Hosting it in neighborhood parks gives plenty of space for vendors and also brings the businesses within walking distance of potential customers.

The market could rotate among neighborhoods each weekend, and even among different neighborhood parks. In Suncrest, Krepps Park, Turtle Park (which is a little on the small side) or the old Suncrest Primary School could all play host. In Evansdale, the Erickson Alumni Center and its greenspace would be a great location. Wiles Hill, of course, has the Wiles Hill Park. Where Woodburn meets Greenmont and South Hills, there’s Whitmore Park and Marilla Park. South Park, Hopecrest and First Ward have a bunch of great candidates for hosting a market, including Morgantown High School, Jack Roberts Park and White Park, while King Street Park could have a scaled-down version. With school out for the summer, Brookhaven Elementary could serve the Brookhaven neighborhood. Across the river, Westover City Park could be ideal.

An idea like this requires cooperation among the city, businesses and, of course, neighborhood residents. But it seems like a good way to give local stores and eateries a boost while also giving residents a chance to shop without having to go much further than their own backyard.