Take a stroll through the Whole Foods part of the South End every Sunday for the next six months and it’ll be pretty clear something big is happening the tony corner of the Boston neighborhood.
Follow the crowds of stroller-pushing families, college kids and youngish urban professionals past the at-capacity $10 parking lots, and soon, there they are: scores of tents packed with art, clothes and produce, music jingling in the distance and enough food trucks to cater a months’ worth of lunch breaks.
Keep going, and there it is again: the handmade earrings, the artisan sandwiches.
This year for the first time, the South End has two outdoor public markets to its credit instead of just one: the SoWa Open Market and the similarly named South End Open Market, just a few steps from one another along Harrison Avenue.
The doubling comes after a messy public break-up last year, when the longtime organizer of the SoWa Open Market Chris Masci and his landlord, Mario Nicosia, of GTI Properties, announced they would be parting ways after a dispute over a trademark.
Masci has moved his weekly festival, and many of the old vendors he used to work with, a few steps down the street to the parking lot across from Ming’s Supermarket. It’s now called the South End Open Market. And under Nicosia’s control, the SoWa Open Market remains.
Despite lots of skepticism and angst over how things would look post-divorce, Masci insisted on opening day – they both opened on the same day – that the split would end up benefiting everyone this season.
“We think now that having both markets is going to be great competition and good for both the customers and the vendors,” said Masci, who also leads a company called New England Open Markets.
He said he doesn’t really want to get into what happened last year except to say, “We really don’t wish them any ill will.”
Bradley St. Amand, SoWa Boston’s director of operations, said he is also optimistic about what the season holds.
“We ultimately see it as a good thing,” St. Amand said. “For us the most important thing is always just bringing people to the neighborhood and supporting the local businesses around here. That’s the reason why we got into this in the first place and that’s our driving force.”
With the bigger total footprint, the twin markets have more options between them this year. Nearly all of them are local small businesses, artisans and farmers. And both have made updates for 2016.
The South End Open Market this year partnered with local vintage company Oliver Best. They’ve been given a corner of the market’s sprawling parking lot to curate as they see fit with up to 20 vendor spaces worth of vintage pickers, clothes designers and record collectors.
“They’re part of what we call the ‘traveling spectacular,’” said Evan Gillis, Oliver Best’s marketing manager. “It’s kind of our crew of go-to vintage sellers.”
SoWa, meanwhile, added a beer garden stocked with local beer, wine and cider – a new partnership with Eat Boston and Wine Riot. Inside the big repurposed brick warehouse near a giant ring of food trucks on Sunday, more than 100 sat sipping drinks and munching on snacks.
“It’s going to continue to grow and we’re excited for the summer,” St. Amand said.