Seeking Safe Space, Pop-Up Market Puts Down Roots
In this time of social distancing and heightened political violence, people from marginalized groups say finding a sense of community has become increasingly important.
In Richmond, Andy Waller tries to provide that support with the Safe Space Market. Waller says the name “Safe Space” has two meanings: a safe, healthy environment to prevent COVID-19 spread and a safe, inclusive home for marginalized communities.
Before venturing through Lakeside Farmers Market, which hosts Safe Space biweekly, Charlene Chotalal welcomes visitors and explains the guidelines in place for a COVID-safe environment. Among other requests, only one group should stop at a vendor at a time, and masks are required. Chotalal reached out to Waller about creating the greeter position to encourage an accessible, inclusive environment but also to “get back out there” after a year of near isolation.
All of the vendors at Safe Space feature local businesses with LGBTQ+ and/or BIPOC owners. Each month, Waller and their team choose a new set of vendors to host. Some are recurring: soap and candle makers Two Fat Babies plans to stick around as long as they are welcome, and some are only around for a season: Bud & Thorn's winter scarves aren't a summertime priority.
Waller, who also owns Dayum this is my Jam, sells their wares alongside other vendors. Not only are vendors spaced out, but a bright yellow rope reminds customers to remain socially distanced and avoid touching goods before purchasing.
Cuts by August offers gender-affirming and gender-neutral haircuts for Safe Space visitors in a masked, outdoor environment. The $20 appointment gives customers a 30-minute hairstyling from a licensed professional and “badass, Black, trans woman,” August. On a particularly windy day, Cuts by August moved into the large unit adjacent to the outdoor market to finish up a trim for Klaus Ryan, co-organizer for Safe Space.
“Organizing for Safe Space has really jump-started me and has me jazzed up about running a business again,” says Ryan, who also founded Enrich Compost, a compost collection service focused on educating Richmonders on the environmental benefits of diverting food from landfills.
The market offers a space for vendors to reach their customers in new ways. Mitzi Brandthoover recounted closing The Tottering Teacup’s brick-and-mortar shop late last year because of the pandemic. Now operating as Copper Cottage, Safe Space helps continue the business’s direct access to customers.
“[Andy] invited us to come here, and it’s our first market,” Brandthoover says. “Just trying to get back up on our feet, and it’s been a really great experience.”
Evan White, Ryan's roommate and friend, originally offered to volunteer for the market. As Safe Space has grown, White is now being paid.
"Richmond is a fairly queer-friendly space, but there's still people out there," White says. "We just got a threat last week, so there's obviously still a need for both safety for queer people, safety for people of color, and then safety for our community health. Obviously, COVID affects people of color, disproportionately, and so all of that is intertwined in a really intricate way."
Since starting in February, the market added donation drives, music, raffles and food trucks to the evening event. Like the vendors, many of the musicians and chefs are friends or acquaintances of someone already working the market.
Supporting local mutual aid organizations was always the plan for Safe Space, says Ryan. Each month, organizers invite a new group to support. Last month, they hosted a table for RVA Community Fridges, collecting food donations.
The partnership with Taylor Scott, founder of RVA Community Fridges, bolstered Safe Space's social media presence. The mutual aid of the month for April is Peter’s Place, which "provides compassionate and accessible housing, resources, and trauma-informed care" to LGBTQ+ individuals.
Syd Collier is the founder of Roots Holistic and creator of Roots Tea Blends. Working with local farmers and community members, Collier values "our ability to witness the present moment through nature." They recently considered taking on a larger role with the market to help ensure its success and viability.
"I'm not alone as a business owner," Collier says. "I'm not alone as a person of color. I'm not alone as a queer person that is trying to do business. Especially coming off of 2020, where isolation was a big thing, it does feel really special to not feel alone."