Multitudes after dark at Cedar Rapids nighttime market

Thousands gather in downtown Cedar Rapids for better organized event

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Two little girls — Ava, 6, and Sophia Olivarez, 4, — danced to a steel drum rendition of “Under the Sea” on Fifth Street SE.

Sous chef Elliott Brown manned a tent outside Cobble Hill slinging craft beers and tacos al pastor on Second Street SE. Mbololwa Mundia, 21, pulled a block from a giant Jenga puzzle, toppling the tower in Greene Square.

And Eric Schulz, 44, sipped a Millstream Octoberfest while chatting with friends on Second Avenue SE.

“It’s a lot more fun this year,” Schulz said. “It’s better organized. There’s shorter lines. There’s more variety.”

As the sun set Saturday evening over Cedar Rapids, downtown came alive with wall-to-wall people, activities, sights and sounds for the second Market After Dark.

The event closed 19 blocks, creating a street festival atmosphere with 100 vendors and entertainment, downtown bars, restaurants and other businesses opening their doors.

The Gazette was the presenting sponsor and Hoopla sponsored the Main Stage. which featured headliners Hailey Whitters and Funk Stop.

Many in attendance had a view of the market based on their experience last year, which many described as fun but chaotic.

“I think it’s just as busy as last year,” observed Kris Gulick, a Cedar Rapids City Council member. “It’s just more spread out and much more comfortable.”

Last year’s market — covering seven city blocks with 65 vendors — drew an estimated 34,000 people, about 20,000 more than a typical morning Farmers Market in the same general space. Many were thrilled but overwhelmed.

The nighttime market concept was to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the popular Saturday morning market, and the outpouring made it an obvious choice to hold it again this year. But the siege of people and the congestion it created inspired a few changes — such as more better lighting, more law enforcement, spreading out the market footprint and limiting vendors to one side of the street.

Jill Wilkins, an event planner with the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, which organized the event, provided an early estimate of 25,000 to 30,000 people in attendance Saturday.

“We’ve were very fortunate on the weather, and it’s been great all around,” said Wilkins, referring to a forecast for a shower earlier in the week. “We are really happy the people have come out. There’s lots of things to do in the Corridor, so we are glad they chose this.”

Wilkins said interest exists in having night markets more often, but noted it’s an intense effort — some 200 people volunteered and 20 staff members were on hand.

Cedar Rapids police Capt. Jeff Hembera made the rounds on foot patrol on Saturday evening.

“There’s a lot of people here, but absolutely nothing,” Hembera said of incidents. “It’s been an awesome crowd so far tonight, and no issues whatsoever.”

Lisa Wojcik, of Marion, was selling chocolate-covered bacon, baked goods and other treats from her stand called Lisa’s Baked Goods on Third Avenue SE.

“It’s a little slower than last year, but not too bad,” she said. “Last year we sold out in 45 minutes, so this year we made a little more food and it’s been enjoyable to have more time to visit with our customers.”

The downtown streets were closed off by 2 p.m. Saturday, and well before the event people were strolling throughout the area.

“It’s not started yet?” asked Mundia, 21, near the Jenga game.

Hunter Leland, who was playing on a giant Connect 4 board with his son, Quinn, 9, came down early with his family.

“We expected it to be crowded, so we thought we’d get here early before it filled up,” he said.

Fairly quickly, the crowds mounted and by 7:15 p.m., many streets were shoulder-to-shoulder, although those in attendance said not as dense as last year.

A line 20 deep stretched down Third Avenue SE waiting for gyros from a stand called O’s Grill, while lights strung overhead lit up Third Street SE. People came from throughout the region to check out the festivities.

“You can walk around with your beer, and check out the vendors, and enjoy yourself,” said Jim Cook, 59, of Shueyville, as he listened to Hailey Whitters, a Nashville recording artist also originally from Shueyville.

Gary and Karen Prior, a couple in their 50s from Center Point, said they frequent the Farmers Market but don’t often make it downtown at night. They had just grabbed beers — a Coors Light and Bud Light, respectively — at Pub 217 on Third Street SE.

“We’ve just walked around and checked things out, running into friends,” Karen Prior said. “It’s just a great opportunity to get everyone downtown.”

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