During the Summer of 2013, Melissa and I reached an unhappy conclusion: the Market was nearing a potential crisis. We had taken over as caretakers of the then-shuttered Chattanooga Market five years prior, nurtured it back to health and watched it grow into this marvelous creature which transforms the cavernous First Tennessee Pavilion into a crowded, energetic community center each weekend. We loved the fact that hundreds of ordinary people had become entrepreneurs within the walls of the Market, and that tens-of-thousands of fans made a weekly pilgrimage to shop, socialize and support their efforts. It was our policy that everyone with a legitimate product or service should be given a chance; the Market was for everyone.
Our talented team had become masters of the pavilion, planning and utilizing every square inch of the space to allow for more vendor participation. We spilled out into the streets, onto adjacent sidewalks and even the parking lot. The crowds continued to grow, new entrepreneurs continued to apply and we continued to find new ways to make the puzzle work. But that summer, our reality became an unavoidable truth: we had run out of space, and the Market was full.
Some would consider an at-capacity venue a good thing, and I’ll be the first to admit that it certainly is a better problem to have than an empty one! But the core mission of the Market is to provide that introductory step to new entrepreneurs so that they can test the waters and launch their ideas into new businesses—not to put them on a waiting list, or worse yet turn them away. A strong community depends on innovation, growth and fresh ideas; the Market needed to expand, and we needed to think outside of the box.
We met with a lot of very smart people, tossed dozens of ideas around and had a very fortuitous meeting with the leaders of Collegedale. They were seeking to establish a town center—a place for people to gather, socialize and build community. They loved the idea of weekly music, supporting local farms and entrepreneurs, and we set off together on a five-year mission to design, build and launch a new community campus. The Commons, as it is now known, has completed the $7 million Phase I development of its nine acre campus. The last month we celebrated the grand opening with the debut of our first-annual Collegedale Christmas Market.
Thanks to the Collegedale Tomorrow Foundation, the City of Collegedale and gifts from hundreds of individual donors, the Commons will allow for the soon-to-be-launched Collegedale Market to continue to our mission and provide opportunity for the next generation of local farms and entrepreneurs. I hope you can join us this April to witness the birth of a new market!