Market Days still going after 40 years
Jeffrey Joyce, 3, takes a drink of water while walking around with his mother, Paula Phillips, of Laconia, during Intown Concord's annual Market Days Festival on Thursday, July 18, 2013.
(JOHN TULLY / monitor staff)
Hunder Anderson, right, smiles at his mom, Maureen Anderson, left, while making a wooden game at a children's craft area in front of the State House during Concord's Market Days event on Thursday, July 15, 2010.
Katie Barnes / Monitor Staff
A lot has changed in 40 years. Loudon Road is full of stores now, not houses and farms. The internet has changed communications and commerce.
One thing that’s remained the same: Concord still hosts a big party downtown in the middle of July. The 40th annual Market Days Festival runs from Thursday through Saturday.
So how has Market Days kept going for 40 years?
“It’s lasted because they’ve changed it,” said Sue McCoo, who has owned Capitol Craftsman and Romance Jewelers for more than 30 years and also recently purchased the Viking House.
“If something didn’t work, they changed it. It hasn’t been static, though a lot of the core stuff is still there. There was always some limited entertainment. There’s always good food. You can still get ice cream.”
They started with the name. What we know today as Market Days was once Old Fashioned Bargain Days, and it was held in the middle of the week.
“Concord used to be a sleepy town, and in the summertime . . . if you didn’t have a house at the beach, you’d know 10 people who did. On Saturdays, downtown was practically dead,” McCoo said.
Though some complain that the event has become more of a circus than a reason to shop in downtown stores, even Old Fashioned Bargain Days featured carnival rides, according to old advertisements in the Monitor archives.
“3 Full Days of Activities Plus Real Bargains! Bake Sales – Carnival Rides – Food,” read the insert for Old Fashioned Bargain Days 1982, just eight years after the event started.
The next year, the 89 participating merchants offered bargains ranging “from clothing to sump pumps,” the Monitor reported.
About 80 retail vendors are participating this year, having paid a fee to InTown Concord to set up outside their shops and join the festivities. More than 30 vendors will sell food, and 25 local nonprofit groups will set up tents to meet people as they browse and mingle.
The roots of the festival are still in shopping, said Liza Poinier, operations manager for InTown Concord, which organizes and plans the event.
“We think it’s a super important event for downtown, for community spirit. It’s a reminder that downtown is a great place to come and you’ll see things you haven’t noticed before, or you see a ton of new businesses that have opened,” she said.
“It’s pretty great to have 50,000 people cruising around. Our goal is to get them downtown, then it’s up to the merchants to get everybody in their doors.”
That has proven tougher over the years, said some local shop owners, as they compete with musical acts, entertainment for kids and festival food. This year, the organizers have developed a 1970s-themed scavenger hunt, with items hidden in participating stores.
But not all stores on Main Street are participating.
This will be the first year Caring Gifts isn’t setting up a table outside for the three-day event.
The store will still have sales running inside, but the fee for setting up outside wasn’t worth braving the heat, rain and crowds she’s experienced in past years, said owner Donna Mark.
“In the beginning it was worth it. It seemed to be,” she said. “It’s still a popular event, but people for the most part are not shopping. It’s more of just a social gathering, coming down to go to a concert, bringing a million dogs.”
Sam Bagley, assistant manager at Joe King’s, said she has faith that the free outdoor attractions draw people downtown without distracting from the merchants.
This will be her 10th year working Market Days, and she said Market Days – and six months later, Midnight Merriment – are downtown’s answers to Black Friday’s big-box commercialization. It’s a tradition, she said.
Yes, it’s hot. Or raining. Or sometimes both.
“It’s busy and it’s hectic and it’s sweaty and when it’s over, I’m tired,” Bagley said, “but in the end, it’s one of my favorite weeks all year.”
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)