CEDAR RAPIDS — At one point during last year’s inaugural Market After Dark — Cedar Rapids’ first attempt at hosting a nighttime, downtown farmers market — there were so many people waiting in line to buy a burrito from Tim Palmer, aka The Salsa Guy, that police had to intervene.
The line was so long it extended beyond the market’s boundaries and into traffic.
The market started at 7 p.m. last year, but as soon as he started setting up a couple of hours earlier, Palmer knew it was going to be big.
“Nobody had a clue what was going to happen at that market because it was the first one,” he said. “By 5:30, there were a few hundred people on the sidewalk mingling. By 6, they were asking for food. By 7, it was just total mayhem.
“It’s amazing that Cedar Rapids showed up with such force. What a magnificent problem to have.”
It may have been mayhem, but market organizers took notes and are prepared to repeat the experiment this year with changes aimed at improving the experience. Market After Dark returns Saturday. The Gazette is the presenting sponsor and Hoopla is the Main Stage sponsor.
“We got quite a wide variety of feedback last year — people who loved it and really enjoyed it and others who liked the concept of it but since it was so crowded found it harder to enjoy the experience,” said event planner Jill Wilkins.
She works for the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, which put on Market After Dark last year to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Saturday morning markets held downtown throughout the summer. The sheer outpouring of people — organizers estimated 34,000 attended, compared to about 14,000 at a typical morning market — led to a desire to both hold the event again and to make serious adjustments to better accommodate the crowds.
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“There was such a big response of people coming down, it told us this was something the community wanted — this type of event,” Wilkins said.
Last year, the market was held over about seven city blocks, with 65 vendors. This year, the footprint has been expanded to more than 19 blocks with 90 vendors, who are to be located on just one side of the street to allow room for both lines and pedestrians.
The time of the event has also shifted. This year’s Market After Dark begins at 6:30 p.m. and ends at 11 p.m. rather than at midnight. That is to allow volunteers — some 200 people are helping out — to get home earlier and encourage those who want to stay out later to patronize downtown bars, said Wilkins.
A partnership with those bars is part of this year’s event. Within market boundaries, 10 participating bars and restaurants plan to sell wine and beer in specially marked cups. Patrons with wristbands are invited to take their drinks in those cups into the streets of the market while visiting vendors or enjoying the six designated entertainment areas. Identification checks are to take place and wristbands are to be available at each of the market’s nine entrances.
There are to be five beverage tents throughout the market. Last year, customers had to buy tokens to trade for alcohol, but this year the beverage tents are accepting cash only.
To help things run smoothly, organizers have released a set of “house rules”: no pets, coolers, smoking or outside beverages are allowed. Attendees removing alcohol from the Market After Dark designated streets may be subject to open container citations.
As part of a further effort to promote safety, those who attend can park in downtown ramps for a $3 flat fee and may leave vehicles in the ramps until 10 a.m. Sunday.
Extra police officers — both regular officers on patrol and extra duty officers — are to assist with the event, said Greg Buelow, Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman.
“We’ll be making sure people can have a good time safely,” he said.
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Representatives from one participating downtown establishment — Bricks Bar & Grill, 320 Second Ave. SE — are encouraging all those who attend Market After Dark to have a good time while showing respect to others and representing the city in a positive way. Bricks released a blog post this week that has circulated widely on social media. It reads:
“This is a really neat opportunity for our city and can provide the groundwork and proof for the city to let us do things like this more often. But to do so we need to do it right. We need to keep the peace, so that police are not breaking up fights, or having to make arrests. We need to clean up after ourselves, so that the morning after doesn’t look like a tornado just went through. Let’s all work together to try and keep this as something that we can continue to do in the future.
“It’s part of the next step in making our city more enjoyable.”
Here is what you need to know before heading out to Market After Dark in downtown Cedar Rapids:
• When — 6:30-11 p.m. Saturday
• Parking — Downtown parking ramps at the Five Seasons Convention Center, Third Avenue, Fourth Avenue and GTC Ramp are to be open with a $3 flat fee. Handicapped parking is available at the Paramount lot. Vehicles may be left overnight until 10 a.m. Sunday.
• Beverage stations — Cash only, $4 per beer. Participating bars and restaurants are also selling beer and wine in designated Market After Dark cups that can be carried onto market streets. Anyone purchasing alcohol is to receive a wristband. Open container stops at 10:30 p.m.
• Participating bars and restaurants — Bricks, Cobble Hill, Hazzard County, La Cantina, Need Pizza, Pub 217, Red’s Public House, Rock Bar American Grill, Wasabi, White Star Ale House.
• Entertainment — Hailey Whitters performs on the Main Stage from 6:30-8 p.m., followed by Funk-Stop from 9-11 p.m. Learn more about the entertainment in Hoopla Thursday and at hooplanow.com.
• Pets — No pets are allowed.
• Smoking — No smoking is allowed.
• Info — cedarrapids.org/marketafterdark.