Crafty idea: Artisan’s market to bring new vibe to Dover

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DOVER — Downtown Dover has long been viewed as a “food desert,” void of a wide variety of restaurants and culinary shopping destinations.

Justin and Tara Brant, owners of Black Swamp Farmstead in Felton, are ready to change that — and a lot more — as they have taken the lead and are hoping to open the Black Swamp Artisanal Market this spring at 204 W. Loockerman St., next to Bayard Pharmacy. The Brants’ Black Swamp Farmstead participated in the Capital City Farmers Market in downtown Dover for the first time last summer, offering pastured pork and chicken, coffee, soaps, lotions, candles and accessories.

The veteran husband and wife team were pleased with the response they received. So happy, in fact, that they took charge in bringing an artisan’s market to downtown Dover.

“We’re obviously super-pumped about it,” Mr. Brant said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to be able to participate in something like that, and it’s a great opportunity for us to be involved with the community. The community supports us, and in a big circle, we support the community, so I think it’s important and a win-win for everybody.”

The recent surging popularity of artisan marketplaces around the country stems from their design, which brings together local vendors, craftsmen and boutique businesses into an open, one-stop shopping experience.

The word “artisanal” refers to food, drinks and products made in a traditional or non-mechanized way.

Mr. Brant is excited that more than 30 vendors have indicated interest in selling their products at the market, which will have the look of one store, without individual vendor stalls, and each vendor will label their product with their company logo and information.

The Brants will then merchandise the space with those products, which will be displayed on custom wood furniture made by Fortitude Furnishings, a United States Marine Corps veteran-owned/operated company in Georgetown. The furniture itself will also be for sale.

Among the items that are planned to be offered initially at the Black Swamp Artisanal Market are fresh cut flowers, aquaponically grown lettuces and herbs, eggs, farm fresh bacon and ham, farm-raised tilapia, soaps and lotions, cupcakes, ice cream and Italian ice, sourdough English muffins, crab seasonings, sea salt, oils, handcrafted items and more.

“This team approach will allow us to bring high quality products all under one roof, and weather will certainly not affect operations as it sometimes does with the outdoor farmers markets,” said Mr. Brant, who is active duty in the Navy.

Unlocking the Block

The artisanal market concept was developed through the Downtown Dover Partnership’s (DDP) Unlock the Block initiative, which serves as a catalyst to reduce vacancy and engage and support entrepreneurs in the downtown business district, and specifically, first-floor commercial spaces on Loockerman Street and adjacent streets.

Diane Laird, executive director of the DDP and co-chair of the Unlock the Block initiative, has worked closely with the Brants to make their dream become reality.

“Small business owners are the foundation of every successful downtown community,” Ms. Laird said. “Even amidst a world pandemic, Justin and Tara have been carefully planning and strategizing — discussing architecturals, finalizing contracts, working with vendors, selecting displays — all to ensure a high quality, successful venture next to the Bayard Pharmacy.”

Ms. Laird added that artisan’s markets are not just about fresh food products, but there will be some artisan-made crafts there as well.

She said artisan marketplaces provide a more intimate and specialized shopping experience, but they also function as informal social gatherings where shoppers can meet and interact with local craftsmen, artists and designers from their community.

Common to these types of markets are pop-up craft and food events that engage the community in learning about how the goods are made or grown.

Mrs. Brant said they are excited to be featuring the same concept in Dover’s new market and that she and their vendors will take turns in offering workshops and demos in both day and evening hours.

“I make soaps and lotions from natural ingredients and will be pleased to share that process in the store,” she said.

Cindy Small, business adviser for the Small Business Development Center — a partner with Unlock the Block — has also provided technical assistance to the Brants.

“Small businesses are the cornerstone of Delaware’s economy and this marketplace creates the opportunity not only for Black Swamp Farmstead, but for several other small businesses that will make up this cooperative,” Ms. Small said. “It’s a win-win-win situation for the businesses, residents and Dover.”

Will Grimes, neighborhood revitalization coordinator and NCALL/Restoring Central Dover representative, said the new marketplace should bring a breath of fresh air and help to revitalize the West Loockerman Street area.

“Justin and Tara will be bringing to life a very unique retail/grocery concept and we know the community will be so enthused about the variety of goods they’ll be offering right here in the downtown (district),” Mr. Grimes said.

The marketplace will occupy a 1,200-square-foot space that will stand beside the Bayard Pharmacy, the Dover Army-Navy Store, as well as Zuha Trend, Janaid’s Salon for Men and That Ish Boutique.

Dave Hugg, director of planning and inspections for the city of Dover, will be happy to see another storefront get filled, even amid a global pandemic.

“I am very excited and pleased,” Mr. Hugg said. “Long-vacant commercial space is being filled. This continues to build on the (Capital City) Farmer’s Market activities. This is a nice collaboration of merchants, with a varied and ever-changing variety of items. It should become another community gathering place in the downtown.

“This will help expand the activity on that block of Loockerman Street and be a positive signal that downtown business is thriving.”

Thinking locally, but big

The Brants will be joined by several entrepreneurs from the Dover area in their new venture.

Douglas and Katie Wood, owners of 302 Aquaponics of Dover, will sell aquaponically grown lettuces, herbs, leafy greens, as well as farm-raised tilapia in the market.

“Our items are available in other grocery stores throughout the state, farm stands and farmers markets, but we currently don’t have any market space in Dover,” Mr. Wood said.

Mike and Rebecca Marasco, who own Tre Sorelle Dolce in Wyoming, will be bringing their tasty treats to Dover. They will be joining the market selling pre-scooped cups of their most popular flavors of ice cream and Italian ice.

Jocelyn Bottomley of Fat Cat Farms LLC in Camden is planning to sell sourdough English muffins and seasonal heirloom vegetables and flowers.

“We also plan on providing workshops and demos on farmsteading with topics including food preservation, bread baking, and seed starting,” Ms. Bottomley said.

Joe Nocolai, owner of Wyoming’s Big Joe’s Honey, will be selling local honey, along with flavored cream honey, Wicked Barrel Honey and possibly handcrafted skin care products.

“By joining in this new venture, we will be able to offer our products on a continuous basis, thus supporting the demand for fresh, local items that sustains and promotes Delmarva agriculture,” he said.

Rachel Settle, owner of The Bold co Girl and an up-and-coming entrepreneur, has primarily sold her handcrafted earrings and writing journals online and at vendor events. She’s excited about connecting with the community, especially considering this past year of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Epicurean Provisions owner Marie Gravat will be bringing her European gourmet products such as mustards, sauces, tapenades, confits, seasoning and sweet items to the new marketplace.

Vicki Cronis-Nohe of Kent County’s Derby Mill Farms is also excited about her new endeavor in downtown Dover.

“It’s all about flower power — fresh-cut, dried and pressed, all grown sustainably from seed on our farm,” Ms. Cronis-Nohe said. “We will be changing with the seasons — from field bouquets in the summer to holiday swag in December. Look for a variety of herbs, too, both fresh and dried.”

Kristen Powell owns Bites of Delight and will be selling baked specialties, including cakeballs, cocoa bombs, mini-coffee creamer bombs, granola, pie pops, flavored nuts and dipped delights of many varieties. She will also offer demos on “how we create a delight.”

Additional vendors and product types in the market may include kettle corn, handcrafted wood charcuteries and rolling pins, handmade functional pottery and more.

If Ms. Laird has her way, all of these local touches will provide a sweeping regional outreach for downtown Dover.

“The demographic, the customer base, of those that have expressed interest in this project have a lot in common,” Ms. Laird said. “It stands to be kind of a destination business, where people would come from around the region 20 or 30 miles away or when they’re traveling from Lewes to Wilmington or going up and down the state.

“It could be a really nice stop-off to get some upscale goods and items. That’s certainly what we’re hoping for.”