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Ocala Downtown Market is the place to be Saturdays in Ocala, Florida – Ocala

Two years ago, when the pandemic overwhelmed the world and sent everyone into lockdown, open-air markets and venues like the Ocala Downtown Market struggled to remain afloat. Impartial distributors rely on the income they make at these occasions. When Daybreak Bowman took over administration of it, she knew she had a problem forward of her.

“It (the market) was just about within the pink once I took over,” she mentioned. “The one who was answerable for it earlier than me resigned all of a sudden, and there wasn’t time to rent somebody new in time to coach together with her. So I volunteered as a form of interim director, pondering I’d simply get it on its ft to the tip of the yr till we may discover the appropriate individual.”

That was in September 2020. Bowman and her workforce on the Ocala Metro Chamber and Financial Partnership (CEP) have since taken the Downtown Market from a venue of 26 distributors to over 100, and the crowds have elevated exponentially.

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Over the previous two years, the “interim” place has develop into a ardour, as she helped rework what was beforehand a somewhat sleepy weekend diversion right into a vacation spot juggernaut, with a median of 5,000 individuals trekking into downtown Ocala each Saturday. Vendor cubicles fill the acquainted corrugated-steel awning to near-bursting, flowing out onto the sidewalk and populating almost your complete block.

Job 1: Verify in with the distributors

One in all her first priorities was to succeed in out to the present distributors, in addition to vet and converse to potential entrepreneurs, wheedling them to affix and rebuilding the occasion one affected person step at a time. 

Ocala Downtown Market Director Dawn Bowman poses near the empty market area Friday afternoon, Dec. 2.

It took quite a lot of work, time and coping with the occasional logistical snafu – similar to when the water pipes wanted changing and he or she needed to place distributors in “each grassy space we may discover” – however they persevered. Bowman credit the distributors themselves for his or her loyalty and the market’s superb turnaround.

“Most of the vendors were also working at other markets and fairs, so they helped spread the word about ours through word of mouth, references and social media,” she explained, adding that livestreams on platforms like Facebook were an integral part of promotions.

She would walk around interviewing shoppers and vendors, feature the musicians who came to play, and the vendors would then share her posts on their own platforms. In record time, the official market page went from 8,000 to over 20,000 followers and is still growing.

“They’re so willing to talk to customers about what they do and how they do it, because they’re really invested in this and care about it,” Bowman said. Many of the current vendors have been able to sustain and support themselves on the money they make at the Downtown Market and no longer have to travel to other locations to make ends meet.

“The orders (that) some of them get are enough for them not to have to run around doing multiple venues,” Bowman said. “They can use that extra time to develop their businesses.”

This was the scene on April 27, during the Soleil Bakery & Social House's soft opening.

Graduating from the market

Some of them have even grown to the point they’ve established themselves outside of the market. Soleil Bakery, as an illustration, began out on the market and ultimately was so profitable it now has a thriving retailer in downtown Ocala.

Along with that, the market is now nicely out of the pink and incomes sufficient to pay Daybreak, her assistant Lynn, the setup and breakdown crews, and even have cash to pay the reside entertainers. 

“The musicians don’t make some huge cash, however they get suggestions and quite a lot of different provides to do gigs from coming right here,” Bowman mentioned. “Plus, Saturday mornings are often free time for them, so it’s type of a bonus strategy to make some cash and get in entrance of individuals.”

Early wakeup name on Saturdays

Bowman herself is there at 6 a.m. each Saturday, serving to get tents pitched and the road closed off, and he or she’s off and operating for the remainder of the day as much as 4 p.m.

Dawn Bowman

Then, after a day to relaxation, she’s proper again on the workplace planning the next weekend’s actions. Proper now they’re planning Christmas celebrations and theme occasions for the upcoming yr.

It’s a demanding job, and he or she has a full plate dealing with the market, working as a Realtor at Showcase Properties, and taking good care of her horses. However after two years of hard-won success, she wouldn’t give it up for the world.

“What occurred was that I fell in love with this market and the individuals, and I mentioned, ‘Wait, I don’t actually need you to search out another person!’ ” she mentioned with amusing. “I imply, it’s quite a lot of work and it may be an actual problem at occasions, and I’m human. Some days I believe, ‘I simply can’t do that anymore.’”

 “However then I’m proper again there once more Saturday morning, as a result of I like what I do.”

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