'On the Market': Midtown plaza gives entrepreneurs opportunity for promotion and progression

Held every Saturday and Sunday at Midtown's Atlantic Station shopping district, Makers Market allows local artists, crafters, and makers within the metro Atlanta area the opportunity to showcase their work to typically bustled "Atlantic" weekend crowds. (Courtesy of Aaron Powell)

On a recent Saturday evening, artist Justin Wilkins sits behind three long tables in the Atlantic Station retail district, watching the sunset with a paintbrush in hand. But Wilkins wasn’t just enjoying the view: he was presenting his work as part of Maker’s Market, an outdoor vendors market held at Atlantic Station’s outdoor venue space weekly on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Artist Justin Wilkins displays a variety of paintings and portraits created through his business venture, Wilkins Visual Arts. (Kenny Murry/ WABE)

Developed by market curator Aaron Powell in partnership with Atlantic Station management company Hines, the market started with a trial run at the shopping center in 2017 with a small group of business owners selling their work throughout the shopping plaza.

Today, the market annually offers hundreds of local artists, crafters and makers within the metro Atlanta area the invitation to showcase their work to typically bustled weekend crowds.

“This is our sixth year doing the market. It’s just grown steadily more or less over time,” Powell said. “It has really established itself as a haven for small businesses in Atlanta.”

Powell, who has been the executive director of Makers Market since its establishment in 2017, connects with local businesses through the market website and selects which ones will be featured.

“It’s a rotating community, so it’s an interesting dynamic,” said Powell. “We don’t use the same folks every week, although there are some regulars.”

The outdoor space and popularity of Atlantic Station provide vendors with exposure to diverse audiences and increased visibility that most of the participating businesses do not experience in the locations where they are based, many within residential areas outside of metro Atlanta.

For Richard Totimeh, vendor and operator of cold press juice company Juice Champs, the convenient location and a presence on social media have led to easier opportunities to draw out customers who may not visit his storefront business in Kennesaw.

Kennesaw resident Richard Totimeh is the owner and founder of Juice Champs, cold press juice company that features over 10 flavors of all natural juice mixes created with fresh fruit and vegetables. (Kenny Murry/ WABE)

“A lot of times, I will post that I will be out at Atlantic Station, and they will come out here,” he said.

“Unlike big businesses we usually don’t have the promotion and marketing or funding. Anything helps, especially if you’re a small business,” said Wilkins, who has participated in the market for the past four years.

“They are really living out their passion and their inspiration, and they bring that wonderful energy to the market.”

Aaron Powell, Market Curator – Makers Market

Deborah Jones, proprietor of Elena’s Hand Crafted Designs, a Woodstock-based West African-inspired clothing boutique, enjoys the opportunity to interact with patrons who stop by her table.

“A lot of people come through and ask questions about how we started and different pieces that we have,” she said. “It’s fun to talk to people about what we make.”

Jones first began sewing cloth with her mother, Geraldine “Elena” Herbert, when she was six years old. After Herbert’s passing in 2015, Jones and her daughter, Ebony, started Elena’s as a way to keep the departed matriarch’s legacy alive.

An assortment of Tear Drop choker necklaces crafted by Elena’s Hand Crafted Designs. Each design is crafted by hand, and typically takes one to three hours to create. (Kenny Murry/WABE)

Much like Jones, the creation of designer Gregory Foreman’s clothing apparel business, Respect Due, started from an interaction with his own family.

“I had an 11-year-old son who didn’t recognize major artists like Prince and Michael Jackson,” he said. “I had to figure out another way to reach teaching him with history, especially Black history.”

His solution was to use a screen printer to create shirts featuring various artists, musicians and activists that he admired during his childhood.

“Investing into small businesses is investing into the future.”

Kyonna Gibson, Founder – Herbal Luxuries LLC

The success of the shirts in teaching his son encouraged Foreman to develop his own business from the idea. Serving customers with the promise to “celebrate and educate,” the company has launched 12 different categories of shirts giving tribute to legends ranging from author and poet Phyllis Wheatley to former NBA athlete Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“It was a little difficult to start, but once we got out there everybody loved it,” Foreman said. “Ain’t nobody gone teach these kids about who did it before and these icons but us.”

Retail apparel business “Respect Due”, uses graphic T shirts to honor legendary trailblazers in music, fashion, art and activism. Honorees range from late singer Amy Winehouse to social activist Angela Davis. (Kenny Murry/WABE)

Participating vendors and Powell both noted that Marker’s Market has provided a welcoming home for marginalized business owners to be placed in the forefront, including Black-owned and women-led businesses.

Kyonna Gibson, founder of Herbal Luxuries LLC, a line of all natural Holistic skin care products, says that the inclusivity of the market has made the experience much more than just selling and shanking hands with potential customers.

“All of the people that I’ve met have become family … you not only get to meet people, but you get to know their different stories and their different backgrounds,” she said. “We all live these different types of lives and lifestyles, but somehow someway, we are all connected at this one place and one time to share each other’s stories.”

Herbal Luxuries LLC founder Kyonna Gibson showcases soap and oil products to intrigued customers. Gibson’s product are made with Vegan friendly materials and are designed to rejuvenate skin from breakouts and chemicals. (Kenny Murry/ WABE)

Despite the financial and promotional benefits of Maker’s Market, many businesses still struggle to continue operations and sustain recurring customers in the midst of increasing inflation and rebuilding from the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many vendors, the support of venues such as Maker’s Market, as well as the business of loyal consumers, makes the trials and tribulations a little more worthwhile.

“(The crafters) come in with so much creativity and enthusiasm … they are really living out their passion and their inspiration, and they bring that wonderful energy to the market,” Powell said.

“When you become an entrepreneur, you’re able to set your own schedule … spend time with your family rather than working a 9 to 5 job,” said Gibson. “It makes me happy knowing that I’m not going to work for somebody, knowing that the things that I create are making an impact in the world, even if it is just Georgia. Investing into small businesses is investing into the future.”

“When I see a smile on people’s faces when I come to the booth, that lets me know I’m doing what I need to do,” said Foreman. “It’ll keep me up those extra late hours as the night keeps pushing.”