A year ago today, the Tacoma Night Market opened its doors to the South Sound community for the first time. Back then, those doors belonged to a high-ceilinged and brick-clad building on Pacific Avenue. Across the street, lines for Matador’s Cinco de Mayo celebration stretched out the door, pushing potential customers into a magical space of makers and artists as they waited.
“Creating something out of nothing was the hardest part, just getting people there,” said Leah Morgan, founder of the Tacoma Night Market. “But then it just took off. That first event was more successful that I have could have dreamed.”
Every month since then, the market has followed an upward trajectory that has included a move to Tacoma’s Alma Mater in November and the opening of an off-shoot event — the Gig Harbor Night Market — in December. In April, the market started getting sponsorship from local companies like Mary Mart, which has enabled Morgan to start hiring part-time employees to help her manage the ever-growing event.
More than 7,000 people responded on Facebook to the April event in Tacoma — a record high number for an event that packs people in like sardines every month. The number of people who attend, paired with the overwhelming amount of vendor applications that Morgan, receives are signs to her that she is filling a necessary gap in the South Sound.
“The community clearly wants this,” Morgan said, referring to both local artists and their customers. “That part is abundantly clear to me.”
And in the one year since it began, the Tacoma Night Market has grown so rapidly that Morgan is adding another one. A night market in South Tacoma is in the works to begin the last weekend of June. This one will likely be held in two different spaces on the same block, both with bars, music, and vendors — just like the original Tacoma Night Market, which will continue to run on the third Saturday of each month.
Rapid growth with her first market isn’t the only reason Morgan wants to expand, though. Her goals in starting another market include serving a different part of the community, supporting more local businesses, and creating more opportunities for vendors.
“I want to encourage the other business owners around 54th and South Tacoma Way to maybe ramp up their programming for market nights: there’s going to be thousands of people in the neighborhood that otherwise wouldn’t be there,” Morgan said. “My issue is always being over capacity and having too many vendor applications. I want to be able to include everyone, but I can’t. I hope that another market will help to alleviate some of that, too.”
Morgan, an artist and maker herself, has become one of the main go-to people in the area for supporting and advocating for local people doing creative work. She had a hand in curating the local wares that line the shelves of the bottle shop at the newly opened McMenamins Elks Temple, and she runs the night markets first and foremost to create a platform for other people to share their work.
“At the heart of it, this is giving back to our community and providing space for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and artists, all kinds of makers to support themselves,” said Morgan, who also does raffles at each event to support local nonprofits. “And people really show up for this event. I just love how excited the community is to come and see everything that we’re up to.”
The anniversary weekend of the Tacoma Night Market is May 17 and 18 from 5 to 10 p.m. at Alma Mater. Learn more about the market at tacomanightmarket.com.