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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Madison’s Night Market shines a light on small businesses

Five times a year, State Street and Gilman Street are blocked off from traffic and transformed into pedestrian promenades in preparation for the Madison Night Market — or “MNM” for short. 

On Downtown Madison’s website, the city claims the night market to be a celebration of Madison’s unique and inspiring creative culture, which it certainly is. 

Vendors set up shop from 5 p.m to 9 p.m., lining the sides of State Street from the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus to the Wisconsin state Capitol building in hopes of selling their unique products to locals who flood the thoroughfare. 

But to small business owners, the market is more than a lucrative opportunity. 

While the variety of handmade items, gifts, art and food are the main attraction for customers, many vendors return to the market for the overwhelming sense of community it brings them. 

Entrepreneur Olivia Isenberger is no exception. Her soy candle business, Petal and Wick, began as a passion project three years ago, progressing during her limited free time as a UW-Madison nursing student. It has since grown into a full-blown side hustle that Isenberger promotes at local markets and events as well as her retail storefront in Cambridge, Wis. 

Although she doesn’t live downtown anymore, the infectious environment quickly drew her back as a vendor. 

“I think [the market] is such a great space,” Isenberger said. “I really love seeing and talking to all the people that come by — you meet so many cool characters.” 

Isenberger also uses the market as a networking opportunity and has become fast friends with several of her fellow vendors since beginning to sell at the event a year ago. 

Although some vendors have established recurring spots at the Madison Night Market, others are just starting out — like Milwaukee local Staci Blythe, who traveled to Madison to make her MNM debut on Thursday night. 

Blythe’s business, “For The Love Of Drax, LLC,” specializes in handmade pet supplies, some of which include patterned bow ties, collars and decorative decals. She started her business to support her rescue dog Drax, who had developed several health issues by the time Blythe adopted him at eight weeks old. 

In need of additional income to pay off Drax’s medical bills, Blythe claims she “learned to sew to save his life.” But don’t worry — she said Drax is still very much alive and well. 

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Aside from the social aspect of the market, Blythe saw the event as a way to break into new audiences. 

“Since it’s just me, I can’t put money into marketing like bigger businesses can,” Blythe said. “Coming out here allows me to expand in new areas.” 

It’s safe to say Blythe’s first time at the event won’t be her last, despite the lengthy commute.  

While it’s special to the area, the market’s diverse attendees and variety of small businesses make clear the event is not just a culmination of Madison’s unique culture but a culmination of Wisconsin’s as a whole. Whether it be the inviting atmosphere, the camaraderie or the handmade products that draw you in, the Madison Night Market truly has something for everyone.

Don’t miss the chance to experience it before the end of the 2023 season. Make sure to head to State and Gilman Streets on Thursday, Oct. 19 between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. for its final appearance of the year.

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