MADISON, Wis. - Thousands walked along Gilman Street for downtown Madison's first-ever "Night Market," held from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday.
It's a weeknight counterpart of sorts to the traditional, popular Dane County Farmers' Market held on Saturday summer mornings.
Indeed, farmers market mainstays like Stella's Bakery had booths at the new Night Market, but plenty of businesses new to the concept came as vendors, like the brick-and-mortar, State Street-based The Soap Opera, owned by Stacey Scannell.
"(We're) just looking to get a whole new clientele and (show) people the fun things we have," Scannell said. "We're usually closed by 8, so being out here until 11, we can hit up different people and let them know about us."
Attracting new customers to downtown retailers was one of the event's main goals, organizers of the Madison Night Market said. Another goal: give businesses that aren't able to get booths at the Saturday farmers' market an opportunity to market their wares.
"We have some fantastic downtown retailers that maybe people have forgotten about or overlook," Tiffany Kenney, director of the Madison Central Business Improvement District, said. "We've got a nice mix for those who maybe can't make the regular Sunday or Saturday markets."
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin kicked off the event, which featured live music, food carts and games, with a ribbon-cutting. Soglin said the event reflects his push to improve the state of downtown retail as well as his push to clean up the State Street and greater downtown areas.
"We have more people walking by the stores from one end of State Street to the other," Soglin said. "The one thing we know is if you want good healthy safe space, you have to occupy it yourself, and obviously with all these folks out here it's highly unlikely anything might happen that we wouldn't want."
Organizers plan to host two more night markets this year: one on June 8, another on July 13. Kenney said depending on the results of the 2017 night markets, organizers could add more dates next year.
"We're hopeful that we're starting something new and something big, that we'll be a tradition here for years to come," Kenney said.
To learn more about the Madison Night Market and its vendors, visit its website.
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