Closed Down to Open Up: Under the Stars Night Market Debuts

Large festivals are events of the past this year with COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines in place. Yet Destination Sturgeon Bay (DSB) and the City of Sturgeon Bay have partnered to put on an alternative – the Under the Stars Night Market – to draw people downtown for some togetherness at safe social distances.

Every Saturday until the end of August, 3rd Avenue will be closed to vehicular traffic between Jefferson and Michigan streets and opened to pedestrians to spread out to shop at local businesses and vendors’ stands. 

“We’re hoping to increase local business spending,” said Carly Sarkis, DSB marketing and events director. “Being shut for three months or so, these local businesses need our support now more than ever.”

The origin of the idea was a formal “parklet” program that would have allowed businesses to convert on-street parking spaces into retail or dining spaces during certain hours. 

That idea failed at the Sturgeon Bay committee level over concerns about limiting parking. From that attempt, however, the Night Market was born, with vehicular traffic restricted 4-10 pm for one day each week to accommodate the 5-9 pm market. 

Sarkis said the organizers are following local Department of Public Health guidelines and state guidelines from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

“The more we can help each other, the better the situation will be for everybody.” 

Reagan Smoker, general manager, Inn at Cedar Crossing, Sturgeon Bay

“We do have restrictions – heavy restrictions,” Sarkis said. “Who can come out, what can be sold and how you can sell it.” 

Distance and barriers between tables, single-use gloves, no touching prior to purchase and prepackaged food rather than open cooking are some of the requirements. Signage helps participants to spread out, and masks are available for purchase by those without one.

“All of our outside vendors will be having their temperature taken as well,” Sarkis said. “Anyone with a slight fever will be asked to leave.”

The Night Market allows businesses to spread out onto the sidewalks, and those that don’t have a physical location on 3rd Avenue can set up a vendor booth in the street. On any given Saturday, Sarkis expected 15-20 businesses and vendors to participate, either by switching their business plans to accommodate the event or taking their business to the street.

Crowds gather for the first Sturgeon Bay Under The Stars Night Market on Saturday, July 11th.

“We are encouraging everyone to stay open, but it’s all volunteer,” Sarkis said. “Whatever our local businesses are comfortable with.”

One of the participating vendors is Bay Shore Outfitters. With locations in Sister Bay and on Madison Avenue in Sturgeon Bay, the business will host a booth every Saturday to help nurture the idea, community growth and success. 

“How I judge success [of the event], it’s not about how much money I make but how many more people have experienced my business,” said Mark Schuster, a DSB board member and co-owner of Bay Shore Outfitters. “How many more people have experienced the street or have talked about the community and what it’s doing.”

Reagan Smoker, general manager for the Inn at Cedar Crossing on 3rd Avenue, said the Night Market presents a good example of the way local businesses can collaborate to solve problems and support each other.

“We had an open forum and chatted, and we all had to deal with the pandemic in different ways,” she said. “The more we can help each other, the better the situation will be for everybody.”