Richmond Night Market Reprograms the Energy of Shockoe Bottom

Folks say that every 20 years or so, familiar things take on new forms. Fashion and music, gentrification, love and war — new life spins into being from older cycles. I am remembering summertime in Shockoe Bottom, circa the late 1990s and early 2000s, when I was transitioning into womanhood. Weekly trips with my homegirls to the Underground Railroad to hear the iconic Jazz Poets Society play. Low riders bumper to bumper on Main Street filled with hard, pretty boys competing with their bombastic speakers for attention. Sidewalks in front of The Pizza Place and Flood Zone jammed packed with tight lines around the corners. A buzzing energy zipping between buildings, bodies, glass and concrete. Young folks full of heart, life, and possibility – desiring to see and be seen.

That same pulsing enthrallment is what I – and many others – experienced during the first installation of the Richmond Night Market (RNM) on April 13. The first major event in the newly renovated 17th Street Market, RNM is an “art, culture and family” experience that takes place the second Saturday of each month this year from 5-10 p.m. Forty vendors of all kinds set up shop in a white electric maze throughout the courtyard busily selling diverse products of body and hair care, health and wellness, desserts, jewelry, barber haircuts, plants and urban farm care, clothing and bags, artwork, food, and crafts. In addition to this, live art, maker spaces and music fill the plaza.

The restaurants bordering the market on all sides are filled to capacity, many with lines wrapped outside. A Creative Kids Hangout consists of a cheerful exploration through a crafts setup, Nerd Squad tent, and a Studio Two Three print truck where youth learn how to make their own screen printed posters. Renowned visual artist, Hamilton Glass, creates a live mural piece for the Richmond Night Market allowing visitors to witness his process unfold during the course of the night. Ham is polite and amenable, stopping to take photos and answer questions from passersby before continuing on with his work. 

DJ Prolific blesses the 1s and 2s and keeps the party going with hip hop, R&B, soul, and AfroBeat music. The Drew Miles Trio bring live rhythms full scale. Horns wail, a saxophone moans, and the keyboard shimmies, reverberating frequencies of Richmond’s complex history throughout the plaza. Energetic dance sessions erupt between attendees who can no longer stand still — they grab hands, snap fingers, shake heads and bums, and bounce their shoulders and knees to the beat. Drums No Guns, led by Dr. Ram Bhagat, sets the tone with an acoustic set that provides a healing approach to the market space.

“I’ve never seen an event like this happen here. It’s amazing to finally see an inclusive market. The community has needed this,” explains Bethany Frazier, creator of Maven Made, a natural plant-based skincare and wellness vendor. “This is a piece of Richmond that has been missing and it feels like a home experience – like what it should be. The first market is always a risk but the turnout has been great. Everyone’s happy and in a good mood. It’s been a chilling emotional experience for me.”

RNM founders Melody Short and Adrienne Johnson, creators of the visionary Artisan Cafe, one of Richmond’s first large-scale maker markets and a propeller of the local Black arts movement, set a specific intention to create space within Shockoe Bottom’s 17th Street Market. “Art, food and music connects people and helps to create beautiful spaces. It should be about love and that draws people together in the midst of all the madness that happens in the world,” says Melody. “And we’re flipping it, we’re creating a space of commerce and we’re Black women who are the founders. We are in charge of creating opportunities so that people of color can have some money coming into their homes.”

With a chill yet inviting vibe, the Richmond Night Market is a free, open and inclusive experience for all to enjoy. Breaking boundaries of race, age, and geography, the vendors, artists, and visitors of RNM reflect the landscape of what the greater Richmond region has to offer. “In Richmond, we do a great job talking about diversity, inclusion and community but there aren’t a lot of organic places where people grow, learn and experience one another,” says Adrienne. “We’ve always wanted to see diverse spaces, to have a safe space to explore one another’s cultures and perspectives and not be siloed. We work to foster spaces that are organic, safe, and welcoming.”

Not only is the market multiracial but it’s also intergenerational, comprising communities outside Richmond’s binary of Black and white folks and representative of all ages from families with babies, adolescents and teenagers to university students, middle-aged couples and senior citizens.

Here’s what you need to know to enjoy the next market:

When: EVERY 2nd Saturday April-Dec ‘19 | 5-10 p.m.

Where: 17th Street Market, 100 N. 17th Street

Parking: Free street parking is available. Close to the Market, try available spaces along 18th, and on Franklin and Main Streets east of the Market. There are also paid CityParking Inc. lots in the immediate vicinity: Lot 128 (1715 E. Grace Street), Lot 180 (207 N. 18th Street), Lot 222 (200 N 17th Street), Lot 15 (1425 E. Main Street). Click here for a Parking Map!

Vendors: Want to become a vendor? Click here for a vendor application! Spots fill up fast!

Interact: Follow the Market on Instagram (@Richmondnightmarketva) and Facebook, tag and share your photos, use #richmondnightmarketva #rnm2019.

Photos by Amanda Barnes

CategoriesCommunity Builders, General, Live

Sionne Rameah Neely, PhD is a womanist researcher, writer, teacher and multimedia producer who spent eight years cultivating critical movements in the artist community of Ghana before returning to her hometown of Richmond and joining Initiatives of Change USA as Director of Marketing & Communications. In Ghana, Sionne co-created ACCRA [dot] ALT, an independent community-based organization that promotes the socially transformative work of African creatives and artists to global audiences. As part of this work, she also co-founded and helped run the flagship CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival, the biggest festival of its kind in Africa. Here in Richmond, Sionne serves as the Cultural Documentarian for the Richmond Night Market.