Diaspora

With pop-up markets, vendors forge friendships and community in Newton – The Boston Globe

Self-described “serial entrepreneur” and owner of a Nonantum based catering company called Better Life Foods, Christopher Osborn saw firsthand how the pandemic impacted small businesses in Newton.
He promptly sprung into action, creating pop-up markets for local vendors to have another avenue to sell anything from homemade pet treats to baseball cards.
For Osborn, helping people create new memories and doing something good for the community brings him great joy.
“Creating something that people enjoy is what keeps me going every day, you know, I get to wake up and I get to feed people and I get to make them happy,” he said. “I help build memories.”
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Osborn’s pop-up initiative began when Seana Gaherin, owner of Dunn Gaherin’s Food and Spirits in Newton Upper Falls, offered her pub’s parking lot to hold these markets, including a spring-themed event March 20 where 20 vendors nestled outside the restaurant on Elliot Street.
“They’ve basically used the space now over the last two years, and it’s just turned out to be something that’s really special,” Gaherin said. “I really am hopeful that we will continue to do it, and that it’s one of those silver linings from the pandemic.”
Gaherin said local community members were especially drawn to the outdoor shopping event during the pandemic shutdowns.
“It was like gangbusters because there was nothing going on,” said Susan Fain, co-owner of Quicksilver Baking who attended the market.
However, sustaining the market has had its challenges, Osborn said. As the community began the transition back to pre-quarantine life, he found fewer people had the time to stop and browse with their busy schedules.
Spring forward two years, the market has bloomed into an event which attracts Newton community members around the holidays for themed markets such as Mother’s Day, which will focus on supporting women.
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The recent spring-themed market, held just after St. Patrick’s Day, featured a performance by Newton-based Sullivan School of Irish Dance.
Lael Yonker, a parent of one of the Irish step dancers, attended the market for the first time and said she appreciated what it meant for local businesses and the community.
“I think it’s a great way to promote a small business and to start to spread the word about these really great and unique products, and a nice way to get people out, too, after the pandemic and bring the community together,” Yonker said.
Osborn said he and many of the vendors have built personal relationships with each other as well.
“We are a community. We know our names,” said Juan Arroyave, owner of Kikos Coffee & Tea, who was at the spring market. “It’s like a family that we built.”
Several of the featured vendors work from Dorchester-based CommonWealth Kitchen, a local nonprofit organization housing community kitchens as a way to support small businesses lacking adequate funds and resources. Osborn’s Better Life Foods also got its start at CommonWealth Kitchen, before “graduating” to its own space in Nonantum.
Nanci Gelb and Terri Tsagaris, co-founders and owners of Off Our Rocker Cookies — a plant-based, gluten-free business focused on women empowerment — work together as one of the vendors from CommonWealth Kitchen.
“A lot of it’s just a collaboration, it makes us happy to see all these people that we know who are bringing their businesses and bringing their enthusiasm for different kinds of food to other people,” Tsagaris said.
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Rebecca Diamondstein, Newton resident and return customer to the pop-up market, brought her family to the spring market to support the local businesses they’ve grown to know.
“We like them a lot, and we’re coming back for some more,” she said. Diamondstein said she appreciates the diverse products at the market and said there is something for everyone — including her dog, Fenway.
One vendor, Nathalie Barege, co-founder of Maman Myrthe’s Pantry, said she uses her Haitian heritage and grandmother’s natural, medicinal recipes to inspire the low-sugar jam and jelly she sells at the market. A former combat veteran and working firefighter, she runs her small business from CommonWealth kitchen.
Another vendor at the market, Paulette Ngachoko, founder and chief executive officer of HAPI African Gourmet, used to live in Cameroon, Africa, and said she started her business to share different aspects of African culture with her food.
“When you have diversity, people come in for one thing, and leave with something else,” Osborn said about the variety of vendors.
Although he now lives in Lakeville, Osborn said he grew up in Newton Upper Falls and has been part of the community his whole life. He attributed much of the market’s success to longtime friend Gaherin for inspiring him to create the pop-ups.
“More importantly, I also love the new business model of a pop-up and the seasonality of it — being able to pivot and change and bring together businesses,” Gaherin said. “A lot of times our economic model was that we were competing against one another, so it’s really nice to work together and to provide a product that’s wide variety for our community.
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Taylor Coester and Clara Cahill-Rogers can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.
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