CHRISTIANSBURG — The managers of a relatively new cafe on the far eastern side of town have announced plans to launch a small farmers market next month on some land next to the business.
Bear Dance’s plans for a farmers market come as Christiansburg officials discuss and debate the future of their own farmers market — and so far, the only such operation within the locality.
A supporter of a councilwoman who has questioned the location of the town’s market owns the property where the new market will be located.
Sarah Vogl, who with Chris Reese co-runs the Bear Dance Market at 3205 Roanoke St., said the market is set to begin in early April with probably three or four vendors.
Vogl said traffic figures she’s researched show that a significant number of cars pass through the area of town where Bear Dance will be located.
“I have a lot of confidence in this location,” she said. “They [motorists] just need the motivation to stop.”
Reese said they are also trying to serve an area of the town that may be less financially well off but still has a demand for the kinds of products the business sells.
“This ties back to our whole business model … giving this area of Christiansburg that has less money a place to go,” he said.
Last week, Christiansburg Town Council approved turning a part-time recreation department position into a full-time job that will assist the town’s events coordinator.
Among other things, the new full-time job will aid the events coordinator with the Christiansburg Farmers Market.
Also last week, the council voted unanimously to re-open the portion of Hickok Street in Christiansburg that is used by the town’s farmers market.
The council decided in 2018 to close that portion of Hickok, which they considered an ideal spot for downtown events.
Councilwoman Merissa Sachs said Hickok remained closed last year due to high hopes that more events would take place on that street.
However, she said, a lack of recent events on that street , particularly in the absence of an events coordinator, pushed town officials to look at re-opening the road.
Sachs said there are hopes that whoever fills the events coordinator job will be able to bring a few new events to that portion of Hickok.
“But in the meantime, we all pretty much agreed that we thought it was a good idea, until that took off, to go ahead and open the street back up,” she said.
Mayor Mike Barber said it makes little sense to hold the “citizenry hostage” when nothing happens on that street several days each week.
The Christiansburg Farmers Market, which launched in 2015, is expected to be temporarily relocated following this upcoming season due to work next year that will significantly affect Hickok.
At least one council member, newcomer Johana Hicks, has also questioned the success of the town’s market on Hickok and has in council discussions pushed her colleagues to look at other potential locations, particularly Downtown Park off of College Street.
Hicks, during her campaign for town council, was backed by local restaurant owner Marie March, an outspoken critic of the town who owns the Bear Dance Market property.
Vogl, however, said March is not involved in the running of Bear Dance and the business’ other ventures. Vogl said the business has distanced itself from much of town politics.
In fact, she said, there are plans for her and Reese to eventually purchase Bear Dance from March.
Vogl said Bear Dance in no way intends to directly compete with the Christiansburg Farmers Market.
“That’s not the case,” she said. “I think it can co-exist with the town’s market.”
Reese reiterated that he and Vogl are launching a market because they see a need in that area for fresh and locally grown produce and other products.
“It’s just … that there’s this huge unaddressed problem,” he said.
Hicks herself said any person should be welcomed and encouraged to open new stores, markets and various kinds of recreational venues.
“It is their business to run as they see fit,” she said.
Hicks said she believes the two markets can co-exist. She said she doubts Bear Dance’s plans will have any effect on Christiansburg’s market due in part due to location.
“They are definitely two totally different kinds of venues and markets. Not to mention you are dealing with two very different locations, and I imagine different dates and times,” Hicks said.
Vogl said her market has commitments in place for regional vendors who sell plants, produce, meats and eggs. She said she and Reese are also hashing out an agreement with a soap and candle vendor.
Vogl said they are still not quite decided on the dates but are looking at running the market twice a week. The days they’re looking at are either Tuesday and Saturday or Thursday and Saturday, she said.
Vogl said she considered Tuesday because it would allow her market to fully avoid competing with Christiansburg.
“I’m concerned about people thinking I’m competing,” she said.
Vogl, however, said she has seen that Thursday is one of the days where people are more likely to spend money on farmers markets.
She said she also wants to run the event on Saturday due to the facts that more people aren’t working on that day and that it’s usually Bear Dance’s busiest time of the week.
Opened in October, Bear Dance sells bagel sandwiches, coffee, cannabidiol products, jams and chocolates, among other items. Many of the cafe’s products are sourced from local businesses in the New River Valley.
“What we all need to be doing is helping younger generations open small businesses, and that should be the mission of the business community as well,” said March, who clarified that she only provided start-up money for the cafe.
A few other Christiansburg council members couldn’t be reached to comment on the Bear Dance farmers market.