By Becky Lee
Local organizer Angie Petit-Taylor believes that every village needs a marketplace. Out beyond Sunset Boulevard, there are few pockets of commerce. Shops are sprinkled along Judah, Noriega, and Taraval streets, but the Outer Sunset is mostly residential, leaving few places to gather and create community.
It has been more than two months since the coronavirus shelter-in-place order began. Most people have settled in to the daily habits of shelter-in-place, waving to neighbors from behind windows, taking out the garbage fully masked, and avoiding Great Highway on the weekends when what feels like the whole Bay Area descends upon Ocean Beach.
Figuring out a way to safely create community during a pandemic is no easy feat. But, through a combination of creativity, thoughtfulness and collaboration with local entities, Petit-Taylor sees a way forward.
This summer, the first-ever Outer Sunset Farmers Market and Mercantile will be held on 37th Avenue between Ortega and Pacheco streets, alongside Sunset Boulevard.
“My goal is to make it for the Sunset, in the Sunset, by the Sunset,” Petit-Taylor said. She hopes the market can help the community and its beloved small businesses recover, while allowing people to get outside safely.
In 2014, Petit-Taylor co-founded Sunset Mercantile, a festive pop-up marketplace, with a fellow mother in the neighborhood. As their kids started elementary school, they noticed that many mothers were spending more time nurturing their own passions and hobbies, some of which had real business potential.
The challenge of opening a brick-and-mortar location in a city as expensive as San Francisco made it difficult for people to take their ideas to the next level. Thus, the Sunset Mercantile was born. The Mercantile started as a series of pop-up markets to create awareness for new and emerging small businesses. Over time, the markets have become as much about creating community as about finding customers.
Petit-Taylor has always loved connecting with people and creating new ways for people to connect with each other. She honed her project management skills over many years in the restaurant industry before spending time as an aquatic biologist taking care of reptiles. It was then that she started an antique business on the side, to “balance the masculinity” of her day job.
From that business came the Antique Faire in the Park, a multifaceted gathering of live music, children’s activities and antique dealers, complete with an organic beer and wine tasting garden.
A small-business owner herself, Petit-Taylor brings to the Sunset Mercantile an understanding of what local merchants need from community events and marketplaces. Markets, in contrast with individual stores, “allow someone to stumble into something new that they wouldn’t have necessarily been seeking,” Petit-Taylor said. Part of her mission is to help small businesses draw new customers.
As a parent, she knows that events need to create ways for kids to be engaged in order for families to be able to enjoy the experience together.
“It’s not just a market,” Petit-Taylor said. The pop-ups are “festive, family-friendly events that even people who are working the event can bring their kids to.”
In typical times, it is obvious how gathering connects people and local organizations to create a sense of community. This summer, however, organizers will be faced with the unique challenge of connecting people while simultaneously keeping them apart.
“First and foremost, safety, health and well-being are the top priorities,” Petit-Taylor said. “But there’s no reason why it can’t be a happy environment. We need to get creative, and think out of the box.”
Organizers have had a sufficient amount of time to be intentional and thoughtful about following city regulations, setting high safety standards and easy-to-follow guidelines. Like most first-time events, the plan is to start small and grow organically, allowing fewer vendors to be spaced farther out.
The plan is to set a strict protocol up front to have volunteers, vendors and eventgoers on the same page, while using clear navigational tools to make it as easy as possible to follow the rules in the moment. Clear signage will set expectations for attendees and ground markers will indicate safe standing and looking circles around vendors.
“There’s the heaviness of a pandemic going on,” Petit-Taylor said, “but life is always worth celebrating. It’s important for everyone’s well-being that we find ways to reconnect with one another safely, to celebrate life safely. It’s a balance.”