A little more than a year ago, 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.
“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 than 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 that they planned to attend the April market 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 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 plans to add more: A market in South Tacoma and one at the Museum of Glass with opening dates still to be decided.
Rapid growth with her first market isn’t the only reason Morgan expanded, though. Her goal in launching more markets is to serve a different part of the community, bring people out to support more local businesses, and make opportunities for even more 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 (more) market(s) 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, artists, and 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.”