Pandemic fuels rise of local outdoor vendor markets in The Woodlands area

The Rayford Sunday Market added to its dozens of vendor spots following its reopening in spring 2020. (Courtesy Rayford Sunday Market)
The Rayford Sunday Market added to its dozens of vendor spots following its reopening in spring 2020. (Courtesy Rayford Sunday Market)

The Rayford Sunday Market added to its dozens of vendor spots following its reopening in spring 2020. (Courtesy Rayford Sunday Market)

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Amenities such as live music offerings and vendor samples returned to The Woodlands Farmer's Market at Grogan's Mill in late 2020. (Courtesy Jennifer Robinson)
While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizers to alter or cancel a range of activities over the past 10 months, several new and established outdoor vendor markets have had success in The Woodlands.

Some events saw their operations expand, and others launched in late 2020 and early 2021, although maintaining business over the past year did not come without challenges. Even so, organizers said new precautions and adaptations allowed some business to ramp up over the past several months.

“We did a drive-thru market, and it was wildly successful. ... When we decided to open back up in person, we did social distance spacing for our booths,” said Beth Holden, the owner and manager of the Farmer’s Market on Tamina in Magnolia.

Mary Middlebrook, the coordinator of the Rayford Sunday Market on Rayford Road, said the event strategically reopened with 40 of its 100 vendor spots after a temporary closure last spring.

That strategy was shared by The Woodlands Farmer’s Market at Grogan’s Mill, where a gradual phase-in of additional services such as vendor samples and live music has also taken place alongside continued distancing practices.

“We closed it down and then realized what was happening and realized that we could make the market really the safest place for somebody to shop,” said Bruce Cunningham, a market organizer and Grogan’s Mill Village Association board member.

New initiatives

Alongside the focus on safety, Cunningham said the Grogan’s Mill market was able to expand its offerings.

Similarly, Middlebrook said another advantage of slowly increasing the Rayford market’s size was the ability to facilitate space for new businesses that sprung up as a result of the pandemic.

“Some vendors, businesses who lost their brick and mortar, who have transitioned to being a smaller business, [joined] the market,” she said.

Middlebrook also started a new market in the area. Initially a joint venture with the city of Oak Ridge North, Middlebrook said that new event quickly outgrew its space off I-45 and relocated north of The Woodlands to become the Woodlands Square Market on 1488.

Through that event and the Rayford Sunday Market, Middlebrook said community members have continued to not only support her stable of merchants, but also provide increased foot traffic at the Imperial Oaks Shopping Center and Marcel Town Center.

“It became an important way for us to bounce back, which is not at all how we intended it; it just happened to work out that way,” she said.

This year’s founding of the Sterling Ridge Artisans & Farmers Market on the west side of The Woodlands was also aimed at supporting the surrounding community, according to Fred Lederman, a Sterling Ridge Village Association board member. The Sunday morning market, which Lederman said was timed to avoid competition with other local Saturday markets, launched Feb. 7 at the Colonnade Shopping Center.

“It’s been very reassuring to us that people who have determined that they needed to get more income ... they’ve actually taken the challenge up in their own homes building and making and doing things in the arts and crafts area,” Lederman said.

Providing an outlet

Many of the market organizers also said opening an outdoor space for residents to mingle was a benefit in a time when many people may have become more isolated—another service Lederman said he hopes the new Sterling Ridge market can offer.

“We’re very excited about this,” he said. “I believe everybody in the state, in the United States, is looking for ways to get out more, to socialize. If nothing else to see other people even from a distance, just to keep their sanity going in very difficult times.”

Middlebrook said the reopening of the Rayford market brought with it some of the most vocal responses to her operations she had ever received—both positive and negative. While some were concerned about in-person safety, Middlebrook said she elected to enforce additional precautions to make the outdoor market as safe as possible for those most concerned about COVID-19 while keeping it running.

“The No. 1 response that I’ve gotten is, ‘Thank you for bringing back some kind of normalcy. Thank you for helping us get back to normal,’” she said. “Normal being the key word there—people not necessarily looking for a fantastic, huge event but just something that was going on, something that they could go and do.”

By Ben Thompson
Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2019 as a reporter for The Woodlands area and began working as Austin's City Hall reporter in April 2021.


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