Jennifer Sawyer remembers when Riverwalk Market Fair was just an idea.
Now the open-air Saturday market located on Bridge Square in downtown Northfield is a growing entity with out-of-town visitors and Northfielders alike enjoying the food, art and entertainment for 20 consecutive Saturdays − beginning Saturday (June 7).
“The energy was so high then and this many years later, it’s still high,” said Sawyer, who is on the Leadership Team of Rebound Enterprises in Northfield. “It’s so cool what a small group of people have created. This is such a great asset for Northfield.”
Beginning its fifth season, Riverwalk Market Fair offers a different combination of locally grown seasonal produce, artisan foods, food vendors, a juried selection of art and fine crafts, live entertainment and activities for the whole family.
And this year, Sawyer and Brett Reese, a founding member of Rebound Enterprises, have offered their business expertise on a pro bono basis to help Riverwalk continue to be a viable downtown event and to possibly reach new heights.
Reese said he is only too happy to help an event like Riverwalk thrive and succeed in his hometown.
“This event is a really great thing for the community and the town,” Reese said. “It brings in visitors and the locals participate as well. It really helps build the fabric of this community.”
Reese said that he and Sawyer want to offer what he feels Rebound has been successful in and that’s good governance, strategy and financial viability. They both believe in Riverwalk and want to see it continue to succeed.
“It’s good for downtown and is a magnet for businesses,” Reese said. “There is a definite benefit for Northfield.”
Founded in 2010 by local artists and entrepreneurs − and largely funded through vendor fees and grants from the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Northfield Economic Development Association − Riverwalk originally was started as a venue for local entrepreneurs to market their products. Since then, Riverwalk Market Fair has become a valued community asset where local residents gather, as well as a popular visitors’ destination.
The numbers confirm what organizers have been preaching for so long: Riverwalk Market Fair is a thriving event that brings people to Northfield who infuse money into the local economy.
In 2013, 50 different vendors sold at Riverwalk and sales were $181,215. The average amount spent at Riverwalk by the 100-400 people who attended each week for the 20-week run was $21, while the average spending at other businesses was $34. The average spending on food and beverages was $49.
Riverwalk provides a venue for local artists, makers of fine crafts, food artisans and farmers to market their products. Some of these vendors have other jobs and earn extra income through Riverwalk, while others have launched self-supporting businesses.
There have been many success stories come out of Riverwalk:
• Martha Scheutzle of Martha’s Eats and Treats started her business at Riverwalk and still does brisk Saturday business there. She has established a retail store in Dundas and an active catering business.
• Geralyn Thelen of Just Me Geralyn and Glass launched her fused glass business at Riverwalk the first year it opened. As of 2013, she has quit her salaried job and is marketing her fused glass full time.
Ann Mosey, who is a current Riverwalk Market Fair board member and executive director of the Northfield Arts Guild, believes the event has been successful in not only bringing tourists to town, but also in drawing artists and organic farmers to Northfield.
She also thinks the Saturday event can be used to launch other events, piggy-backing off of Riverwalk’s success. she says the event draws people to town anyway.
“It’s created an anchor event in which to build on,” said Mosey, who believes the word is out and that all arts organizations can leverage Riverwalk’s success and have other events. “We are continuously looking for extended daylong events. It’s building on that little whisper.”
With four successful seasons in the books, Mosey and other Riverwalk Market Fair organizers believe it’s time for the event to move forward from where it is currently.
“How big do we want this to be?” she said. “That will be the next discussion.”
As consultants, Reese and Sawyer look forward to that discussion and helping to come up with a sound strategy for future success.
“The people who first had the vision for Riverwalk and have made it successful deserve a succession plan,” Sawyer said. “They’ve done the heavy lifting. Now is the time to build on that.”