On April 3, Bronxites and New Yorkers from all over will head to Fordham Plaza as the Bronx Night Market kicks off its new season. Going into its fourth year, the event has become a home for foodies, artists and businesses looking to reach new customers.
The Bronx Night Market is a culmination of the best the borough has to offer. And much of that – from its vendors to the founders of the event – can be traced back to Mott Haven.
In late 2016, founders Marco Shalma and Amanda Celestino connected over a love of food and the Bronx. Shalma’s company, Round Seven Media, had previously worked on creative projects in the Bronx. When he and Celestino, an editor at Edible Bronx at the time, met for lunch one day, they wondered why their borough didn’t have an event that celebrated the local community like Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg or the Queens International Night Market.
The two Mott Haven residents quickly realized they were on a path to change that. They started planning and working with the Fordham Road Business Improvement District (BID) before launching the Bronx Night Market in 2018.
In the beginning, Shalma says the event relied on local businesses like Mott Haven Bar and Grill and City Tamale to take part as vendors. But the event’s recognition over the years has attracted more vendors. This year, Nettie’s Knowledge, Pop Pins NYC, BTOR and Pinkrose are among the vendors that are from Mott Haven that will be there on the first weekend.
The market has accepted 125 vendors for the year, many of whom are located throughout the five boroughs or operate primarily online. Vendors are selected based on who’s in compliance with New York safety measures, whether they can supply goods at a price range that fits the community, the level of variety they can bring to the market and who comes from the Bronx.
“We always want to support about 50-60% of the vendors to be local from the Bronx,” said Shalma, 46.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 20 vendors will participate at first, rather than the usual 50 that would be there under normal circumstances. Additionally, the Bronx Night Market will not have entertainment, as it usually does, until restrictions are lifted.
“I’ll be honest with you, I got my fingers crossed to be able to operate at full capacity by the end of this year,” said Shalma.
Although some aspects of the Bronx Night Market remain uncertain because of the pandemic, there are many things that are definite. The free event, located at 1 Fordham Plaza, will run every Saturday from 12-7 p.m. until Nov. 20. Safety measures, such as a mask mandate and temperature checks, will be in effect. And an RSVP – linked here – is required so organizers can keep the event at maximum capacity while following city and state guidelines.
Even with the limited capacity, vendors are looking forward to taking part in the market.
Devine Bailey, a Mott Haven resident and owner of Pop Pins NYC, is no stranger to the Bronx Night Market. He first visited as a customer, but now he’s going into his second year being a vendor. He said he enjoyed his experience last year even as concerns about COVID-19 mounted, and he expects a similar outcome this year. Because the Bronx Night Market has such a strong following, Bailey estimates he can make a few hundred dollars selling his fashion pins each weekend he’s there.
For new businesses that mostly operate online, the strength of the Bronx Night Market’s brand speaks for itself.
“They were our first choice of events to reach out to,” said Jonathan Yubi, 28, co-founder of 13 Beeswax. He and his wife, Andrea Rivadeneira, started their business selling their scented candles and soaps last year. Yubi will be representing 13 Beeswax for the first time at the Bronx Night Market on April 17 and 24. And while he’s looking to sell some of his products at the market, Yubi said he’s most interested in reaching out to people in the neighborhood.
With patrons set to descend on Fordham, Wilma Alonso, executive director at the Fordham Road BID, is working to make sure other local businesses get attention as well. One “shop local” promotion plan would provide consumers a voucher for a free drink or appetizer or an e-gift card to spend on Fordham Road if they spend a certain amount at a store in the area.
“I feel that the success of the [Bronx Night Market] and how well they run, bringing in new food options to this area is great, but we need to make sure that we promote small businesses that are not related to food but have a more ongoing presence” in the area, said Alonso.
Exploring nearby areas is exactly what freelance photojournalist Dave Cook likes to do. In years past while visiting the Bronx Night Market, he might start at Fordham Plaza and use it as a jumping off point to explore other areas in the Bronx, like Little Italy on Arthur Avenue. Cook, who lives near Columbia University, has been documenting his food journey on his website Eating In Translation.
The 61-year-old has attended other big name market events held throughout the city and said he went to the Bronx Night Market in 2018 because he “really wanted to see what the Bronx would offer, compared to Queens.” As someone who explores the five boroughs for their unknown food gems, Cook’s standard is high. But he knows the variety of food offered is beyond what most attendees might usually encounter.
Since his first visit, Cook has been to the market at least half a dozen times. He plans to attend this year to support small businesses in the area. He already has a reservation for a Saturday in April.
The need to financially support businesses and maintain public safety during the pandemic is a fine line, but Shalma feels he has a responsibility to find a way for the two to gel. Many safety measures that were in place last year – single entry and exit points, socially distanced dining areas, collecting emails and phone numbers for contact tracing efforts – will continue to be the standard this year.
As more vaccines are administered and the pandemic begins to wane, the Bronx Night Market represents an attempt to return a sense of normalcy to the borough. Although the pandemic could potentially still disrupt this year’s event, Shalma said it won’t erase all that the Bronx Night Market has achieved since its inception.
“It’s a success story,” he said. “It started off small from Mott Haven and now it’s well-known and respected around the borough and New York City.”