Seriously Silly: The Park Silly Sunday Market
Every summer Sunday, Historic Main Street turns into a bustling, unusual spectacle known as the Park Silly Sunday Market. One of Park City’s best known and most spectacular events, this unusual collection of artists, vendors, performers, and restaurants brings visitors from all over the world. We spoke with Kimberly Kuehn and Kate McChesney, the CEO/founder and executive director of the Silly Market, respectively, about this crazy weekly bazaar.
All Seasons Resort Lodging [ASRL]: We’ll start with the basics. Park Silly Sunday market is a unique institution, where did it come from?
Kimberly: It was originated in 2006, and it was just something that we wanted to really hype up Main Street. The economy was really bad back then, so we wanted to give people the opportunity to sell their hobbies, enjoy a free event on main street, and create commotion on Main Street for the Main Street merchants. So we took community elements such as nonprofits, musicians, sustainability advocacy, and we put them all together on the street for everybody in park city. That eventually attracted visitors and tourists, because we’re a pretty colorful community when it comes to our hobbies and our interest in art. We’re definitely a slice of heaven in the state of Utah. We’re a little bit quirky, a little bit more unique than the average community. It’s a nice little staycation day for people in Utah. That right there, along with the organic farmers market, the organic assortment of product that we have, which we spent a lot of time on and have a lot of pride in. So we have importers, organic farmers, photographers, jewelers, and we juggle those categories to make our market a really great, unique place. Never the same, and unique every week.
ASRL: As far as unique every week, what was the very first Sunday like compared to last Sunday?
Kimberly: Our beer garden had one picnic table, and now we have 25-50 tables. I don’t even know. Maybe 30 picnic tables? We had 40 vendors, and now we have about 200. When we started, we were really inviting people of the community to get up onstage, a stepping-stone for people to get up onstage that really never played music in front of an audience. Now we book our music before January. And that’s about 100 bands per season. But we are still keeping the mission in place, and keeping those opportunities open. We never want to say no. We want to open that door to everybody and give everyone an opportunity. So if we have 200 spaces on the street, we want make sure that everyone gets an opportunity. But you do have to meet the deadlines for the applications.
ASRL: What’s the furthest someone has come from to visit the festival?
Kate: Australia, UK, New Zealand…
Kimberly: Groups will come into Salt Lake and then I’ll host them at the Silly Market. I had a really great group of Pakistani ladies that really shed a lot of light on me.
ASRL: How did some businesswomen from Pakistan decide to come to Park City?
Kimberly: They asked us, “How did you do this. As a woman, how did you start a business?” That’s what they came to America for, to study business and women. They were not allowed in their country, so they came here. It was really interesting. It was really neat to hear their stories. I still hear from them on Facebook.
ASRL: It really is very global then.
Kimberly: Yeah, we get visitors from all over. I’ve had translators at my hospitality booth. We’ve had a lot of people coming in with TV, magazines that are in all different languages. This summer, when we ask certain people how they heard about us, a lot of them are saying magazines, or the blog that TripAdvisor did about us when they were profiling the top 20 farmers markets in America. So, we’ve been nationally and internationally recognized now.
ASRL: There’s a lot that happens at the market. There’s obviously vendors, musicians, performers…of all those sorts of things, what’s the best part about the market for you, personally?
Kimberly: It’s a free event that you can walk through. You can see unique, one of a kind items. That’s the big kicker for me. That, and seeing performers that are different. You don’t go to a normal farmers market and see belly dancers and stilt walkers and people hanging from the bridges. It’s the experience of walking through and seeing all these different, unique items and performances. I think that’s why people come back. And when they do come back, it’s actually different. There’s never a market day that’s identical.
ASRL: Most people only see the market. What does it actually look like behind the scenes?
Kimberly: Behind the scenes is actually very interesting. There’s a lot of moving parts. And we should totally have our own reality TV show. We’ve got over-application of vendors. We’re able to look at all the potters, look at all the photographers, look at all the sculptors and all the performances that are coming at us, and truly make it one of the most unique markets in America. It had that very organic start, and now it’s a very seriously silly event. We work all year round, full time. People say, “it’s so cool that you work 14 days a year.” Not really.
Kate: We’ll open up vendor applications as soon as this particular market ends in the middle of September; we’ll open up the application for 2017. We have certain deadlines. So, depending on the type of vendor you are: if you’re a food vendor, a jewelry vendor, an artist, a designer, a youth vendor, a farmer, we have all these different deadlines. Right now, our vendor coordinator is multitasking about 700 different vendors. Basically, it’s a huge game of Tetris. Her phone is constantly ringing. I’m the information hotline, and I help with the media, the marketing, the sponsor meetings, and going after new sponsors and contracts.
ASRL: I’m sure a lot of people really take the deadlines and the application seriously, but I bet you still get a lot of people who call up a couple weeks before.
Kimberly: Day before! It’s natural, because those are often small business owners that really are new.
Kate: Sometimes they just got here and just got their organization together.
Kimberly: I just ran into a guy who told me, “I’m gonna make these at the market because I’m retiring at the end of the month!” They don’t know until you really get into it and say, “Well, we’re sold out, so get your application for next year.” We get a lot of applications throughout the year.
Kate: There’s a lot of Park City locals that finally decide that they have the confidence to try. We do our best to give the locals a little bit better of an in, just because that’s truly what the entire mission was originally with the local business incubator.
Kimberly: And now it’s become not just a local, but definitely a regional, incubator. We’ve incubated over 100 businesses. They start at the market, and then they get so big that they can’t come to the market anymore but they have their own store. They have their own restaurant, they’re baking goods for five different restaurants, they’re in Whole Foods now, they’re in the Sundance catalog, etc.
ASRL: Any of those in particular that people might recognize?
Kimberly: We have Red Bicycle Bread; we have Sammy’s Bistro, All About Socks here in the Kimball Junction, My Liquid Garden in Kimball Junction. Pop Art. Things you can find in Whole Foods or Dan’s. Soul Poles—the bamboo ski poles people. Top Shelf Bar Tending Services, Boom Dog creations, which is one of our jewelers.
ASRL: That’s a pretty wide spread, it’s not all one thing or another.
Kate: Yeah absolutely! We have a Thai restaurant that opened up that started out at the market.
Kimberly: There’s Melty Way, they make grilled cheese sandwiches.
Kate: And we have a new local park city restaurant form locals that used to tend bar behind our bar for us and they just opened, it’s called “Praise Cheezus.” It’s the new adult grilled cheese, and they’re kicking off their business at the market. They are killing it. It’s just amazing to watch, because they’ve been with us for the past five years.
ASRL: It is a local institution, everybody knows about it here. But for people that are coming from abroad, what would be your advice for a first time Park Silly Market goer?
Kimberly: Label it a street festival. And then underneath I would say farmer’s market, eclectic, unique every week. It’s like Cirque du Soleil meets farmer’s market. We shut down Historic Main Street. There’s tons of stuff going on all the time. Unique every week.
ASRL: And not just the first time festivalgoer, what would be your advice for a first time festival vendor?
Kimberly: Get there early, and have a lot of stock. Because a lot of people think, “I made five plates,” and they sell out in two hours. And I’ve actually seen it more in beginning food vendors that run out of food early as a first timer.
Kate: If you’re a real first time vendor, and you’ve never done a show, which, we get a few of those, pre-plan your 10×10 before you get there. Set that up at home like you would set up your tent if you were about to go camping for three weeks.
Kimberly: You don’t want to end up driving up to your campground really drunk and not knowing how to set up your tent. Do it in your own backyard first!
Kate: We have a vendor university. So we do a meeting maybe three weeks prior to the first market and we invite all of our brand new vendors and existing vendors and it really gives you an entire synopsis.
Kimberly: As far as I know there’s no other market that does that to prepare their vendors. It’s in our best interest to make sure that they have a good time. If they’re having a great time, the attendees are going to have a great time. So it’s really the whole big picture.
Kate: It helps smooth out the preparation.
Kimberly: And it also educates the vendors. We teach them where we’re from, what we do for them in terms of marketing, and what type of demographics we see, percentages that are local, regional, out of town. Those help them with their product.
Kimberly: Oh, Make Your Own Bloody Mary Bar! That’s a huge….sorry, that’s like a huge…
Kate: We have a whole stocked bar. We have 23 beers on tap; we have full liquor as well as the unbelievable Make Your Own Bloody Mary Bar that’s kind of our signature. We have lobster rolls, barbecue, steak and cheese sandwiches, Peruvian food, Jamaican food…I mean it’s a huge array of everything that you could possibly get for foodies.
Kimberly: But our Bloody Mary Bar has been written about like for years, it’s Make Your Own. We sell hundreds of Bloody Mary’s.
ASRL: Any time you get a massive number of people together in one place, especially when stilt walkers are an expected sight, strange stuff is going to happen. What is the weirdest, most outrageous thing that has ever happened?
Kimberly: Recently or in the last ten years? Recently I would say that lady that came with the camel that wanted to walk through the market.
Kate: Well there was a woman that was trying to come with a Clydesdale horse and we said we had way too many people on the street, but she insisted, “No I just wanted to walk my horse through the market!” We had a dancing horse a few years ago but we had a permit for that. One time we did have a gentleman climb up the tree cause he couldn’t hear the music well enough because people were talking to loud next to him. We had to tell him to get out of the tree.v
Kimberley: There was the yarn bomb golf cart. We got national attention for that one.
Kate: I mean, for being as many people as there are, we have funny-crazy stories, but we’ve never had any issues. People here are just amazed that they’re up at 7,000 feet above sea level, they’re walking around with a drink in their hand, they’ve got their kids in the bounce houses and the family activities, they’re listening to music on stage, and saying “Are you kidding me right now? This is amazing. This is Park City!” Not only have we grown in the past ten years, so has the town.
Kimberly: And it’s been interesting, we see more overnight stays, because people used to leave on Sundays, and now they’re saying, “Don’t leave until after the Silly Market.”
ASRL: A closing word?
Kimberly: Everybody is connected to the market in Park City. You’re either a vendor, your son’s brother’s cousin adopted a cat at the market, or something else, you know? Someone playing up on stage, the marching band at the high school —everybody in Park City — I can guarantee you, has some sort of connection because it has so many different community elements. It’s like a huge web. I could go into the grocery store and meet someone who says, “Oh my gosh! My cousin’s brother’s sister was at the market last week and she was selling the wine charms!” Everybody is connected in some way to the market. It’s wild. It’s so wild.
ASRL: You’ve changed the tourism dynamic?
Kimberly: Oh yeah, absolutely. People stay over another night, or they stay longer and have lunch on Main.
ASRL: You’ve got ten years experience on you now, but if you were starting it all right now, what would you do differently?
Kimberly: A petting zoo. I would add a petting zoo and I would add more room for something like a splash pad.