Commercial Street was crowded – but not too crowded, organizers stressed – at the first night market of 2019 last Thursday. (NEWS BULLETIN photo)

Night market bringing energy to Nanaimo’s downtown

Commercial Street Night Market is held every Thursday until Aug. 29

After an unexpectedly successful debut last year, the Commercial Street Night Market is back and bigger than before.

Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce president Kim Smythe said last year’s market opened with 65 vendors and on June 20 they opened with twice as many plus eight food trucks. He said most shops will be bringing their wares out onto the street.

“We learned that more is better, definitely,” Smythe said. “So we’re coming back with a wider variety, a far greater number and solid attendance by food trucks this year. We’re occupying more space in Diana Krall Plaza. We’ve taken up about every square inch of downtown that we can squeeze out for our purposes.”

Smythe said last year organizers expected attendance would dip after the first night, so it was a “mind-blower” when thousands of visitors returned to Commercial Street each week until closing night.

“Right from the onset it exceeded our expectations wildly. We didn’t anticipate the number of people. We didn’t anticipate the size of crowds that would turn out for this thing,” he said. “And of course we were super excited to see it so well loved and so accepted by the community, by the residents of Nanaimo as well as by the vast number of tourists that showed up for it. So we were pleasantly surprised all the way along.”

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One returning vendor is Nanaimo’s Melts 4 Mutts Senior Dog Rescue, run by Mike Kitney and his partner Grant Snyder. Together they provide a home for older Island dogs that have been abused or neglected, and to help cover veterinary expenses they make and sell dog-themed scented wax melts, candles and bath products.

Kitney said the Commercial Street Night Market was their most successful of the four markets they participated in last year. He said it was “unbelievable” and “brought some really much-needed energy and vibrance to the downtown core.”

“Our supporters are pretty fierce and they follow us in the pouring rain out to Cedar, but it was nothing like it was at the night market.” Kitney said. “We were literally lined up for four hours in a row and we didn’t get a chance to even eat or have a drink of pop some nights because it was so busy.”

Also coming back for year two is Sarah Coull and the Little Red Bird Baking Company. She sells mini-cupcakes, “which is super fun because I feed people sugar,” she said.

Coull moved to Nanaimo from Ottawa a few years ago and said she wanted to take part in the night market because she loves the downtown. She said the experience was “absolutely thrilling.”

“So many people came out for it and everyone was happy,” she said. “It was such a good time and like one big street party. It was just super fun.”

Smythe said a byproduct of last year’s market was it helped support some businesses that were on “pretty shaky ground” and provided an environment for new businesses to flourish.

“Nobody closed during the summer and five new businesses have opened on Commercial Street since the night market,” he said. “That’s incredibly good because I’ve been very involved with downtown for over 20 years and I can’t recall a time previous when you’ve had five new retail storefront operations open up downtown.”

The Commercial Street Night Market takes place every Thursday night from 5 to 9 p.m. until Aug. 29.

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