(A handy, fashionable bag is what every market-goer needs.)

Old Dominion’s University Village comes alive every Saturday

By Jim Roberts

Opening a brick-and-mortar business in the middle of a global pandemic might not seem like a wise move, but Ty and Christine Harrell have made it work—not by promoting their Equinox Coffee Co. brand, but by launching a weekly open-air market in Old Dominion University’s University Village.

They created Market on Monarch Way to celebrate the University Village community, bringing together their neighboring businesses, ODU’s arts programs and a variety of local farmers, artisans and food trucks.

 “We took a lead on it because we needed the foot traffic,” Christine said. “It’s not our market. It’s the community’s market, you know? That is the biggest thing we’re trying put out there. Yeah, we may have started it, but it’s for the community. It’s a place where the students could go, where our kids can go, where families could go, people that are visiting the college can go and say, ‘Yeah, this is a safe and happy place for my kids to be.’”

The first market in April drew nine vendors, who displayed their wares on the sidewalk between 43rd and 45th streets. The event has grown quickly and moved two blocks north to Brock Commons, a more expansive area that includes a small amphitheater for live performances.

“The Brock is a beautiful space,” Christine said. “Just stepping on the stage and then looking out on Monarch Way and envisioning more vendors, families, students, the local community, food trucks—I’m just, like, ‘This is gonna be amazing.’”

Cullen Strawn, ODU’s executive director for the arts, has helped coordinate programming, including a live concert series that started in June. Upcoming performers include MacKenzie Roark (July 17), MSG Acoustic Blues Trip (July 24), Fox and the Bear (July 31), and Dustin Furlow and Matt Thomas (Aug. 7).

“From my perspective,” Strawn said, “the mission of this initiative is to promote entrepreneurialism in small businesses—their creativity and sustainability—and also celebrate the arts while bringing a diverse community together. It is still a new initiative, but we want to make it something that people look forward to.”

Strawn said he was “full of joy” when he attended the market for the first time. “It felt so good being with other people,” he said. “Seeing their smiles, meeting people I wish I’d met a long time ago—I hope other people feel that way too. I feel like I feel that emanating from them when we’re there together.”

Rhashida Bess, the owner of Alodeuri Jewelry & Accessories, said she’s excited to be part of the Market on Monarch Way movement. 

“Saturdays, with families coming out, sitting out on blankets and watching a performance, and vendors selling things that they put their heart and soul into—that’s the magic of the market,” she said. “That’s community. And that’s there every Saturday.”

She said she’s missed one or two of the markets.

“I found myself messaging people, like, ‘What did I miss? I hope I didn’t miss too much,’” she said. “It’s become such a part of what I do every weekend. … It’s growing, and it’s getting better every week.”

How big the market gets remains to be seen, but the Harrells said they can envision it tripling in size.

“We just want to see more unique things and creative things happening,” Ty said. “That’s a big inspiration for this market—just to give people opportunity test run their unique idea and see how it takes—the specific products that they’re making or their art, you know. We just want to we want to see that continue.”

Market on Monarch Way takes place from 4 to 8 p.m. every Saturday at Old Dominion Universitys Brock Commons. For more information, visit Market on Monarch Way on Facebook and Instagram or email marketonmonarch@gmail.com. Artist and vendor inquiries are welcome.