by Jordan Green
Even more so than Greensboro or Winston-Salem, High Point is closely identified with craftsmanship due to a tradition of furniture making dating back at least 135 years. Yet paradoxically, the Third City is alone among its cohorts in being bereft of street markets open to the general public to buy handmade crafts.
Greensboro has the City Market at the Railyard — a monthly confab with vendors, nonprofits with information tables, food trucks and live music organized under a rotating theme. Before that, entrepreneur Zeke Vantreese organized the Indie Market as a component of First Friday.
In Winston-Salem, the Hoots Flea Market serves a similar social and commercial function as Greensboro’s City Market, while focusing on vintage and secondhand goods. Piedmont Craftsmen Gallery on Trade Street provides an outlet for high-end handmade goods.
The elected leadership and citizenry of High Point seem oblivious to these burgeoning developments in the urban fabric of their neighboring cities. And it’s a shame because this should be right in High Point’s wheelhouse. There are people who hand-make beds and chairs, who salvage old barn lumber to make elegant shelving and tables, and who craft ring boxes and keychains inspired by pop-culture icons like Pac-man and “Game of Thrones.”
A regularly scheduled High Point Makers Festival could offer residents an important quality-of-life amenity, generate economic activity and provide the city with a point of civic pride. The residents of the city should set the parameters of the market, but I strongly suggest handmade as a criteria. You should be able to buy furniture, of course, but also candles, pottery and hand-blown glass. I think it’s probably more important to have a wide selection of offerings than to impose a requirement that the vendors live in High Point. By all means, the artists at the 512 Collective should have some real estate in the market.
Food, craft beer and music have become expected components of urban markets, and High Point will need to step up its game to attract visitors. All these can be drawn from the community: Sumela and Tipsy’z Tavern both have food trucks and catering services. Liberty Brewery & Steakhouse and Brown Truck Brewing — whose opening is around the corner — have beer covered. Music is a little more tricky, but basically requires someone who can find talent while anticipating the tastes of the crowd and find the sweet spot in between.
In the warm months from March through September, the High Point Makers Festival should absolutely be held outdoors. The much-celebrated Pit, which city leaders have been talking about activating at least going back to the spring of 2014, is a natural site. Mayor Bill Bencini: Let’s make it happen.
In the cold months, especially in November and December leading into the holidays, people want to be inside. One thing High Point has in abundance is beautiful, historic mills with brick exterior, hardwood floors and high ceilings that have been retrofitted as furniture showrooms. They remain underutilized throughout most the year. Is there a civic-minded showroom that would free up some space for a local makers market that is open to the general public? Bert Hayes, a commercial realtor with D-G Real Estate who has been instrumental in developing the North Elm Design District, could be a key player. Can you broker a lease arrangement, Bert?
I’ve talked to Bruce Davis, the new chairman of the board of directors at the High Point Convention & Visitors Bureau, about the idea. What do you say, Bruce?