Behind the Sunday Brunch Market - The Unknown Impact

By, Sarah Burroughs

Any true Richmonder is without a doubt attending one or more of the numerous festivals, farmers’ markets, and community-centered events available throughout the year. The motives may differ: one person may be looking to support a local non-profit, one may be passionate about shopping local and another might be a foodie always on the hunt for the best food truck.

Each of these people might find themselves at the Cultural Arts Center’s Sunday Brunch Market, an event where locals can enjoy art exhibits, local vendors, and unique food trucks represented at the event.

The Cultural Arts Center is a leader in the effort to promote local community artists, vendors, and business owners through a variety of fun, family-friendly, and affordable events. One such event is the Sunday Brunch Market. This event is being hosted the first Sunday of each month from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm, and this will continue from through November of this year. It is a wonderful opportunity to find unique local vendors, food, and live music!

I attended the Brunch Market on July 7th to have a firsthand look at the impact of the event – which was strikingly clear. The vendors present at the Brunch Market were: Courtney Mills of Lakeside Print Company, Wayne Swatlowski of Marblest Creations, Jay Hill of Brother Nobody’s Naturals, and Cat Sweeney of the Dominion Green Power Program.

Each of these locals are perfect testimonies of the positive impact this event has on them alongside their community. Through conversations held with each one throughout the day, one is able to clearly see and truly appreciate the difference their participation makes on these individuals and, by extension, the Richmond community.

Courtney Mills is the owner of Lakeside Print Company. She began working in screen printing two years ago at the Visual Arts Center through a class they offered. Mills found a passion for making t-shirts and dog bandannas with her screen printing skills she gained from the class. Originally, Mills only planned on making designs she personally liked for herself to enjoy. However, over time, people began to like her designs as well, and this community’s shared love of her product pushed her to transform it into a personal business.

“When I first started doing this, I was just doing it for myself because it was something that I enjoyed to do and the designs were ones that I thought were cute, but over time other people liked them too. With people in my area expressing interest in what I do like that, I decided to make my hobby into a business,” said Mills.

Mills was encouraged by the people in her community to go out on her own and start a new business. Events like the Brunch Market hosted by the Cultural Arts Center encourage her to continue growing her business.

“You know, it’s always nice to make a sale, but what really keeps me going is that at these events I always seem to be able to make someone laugh or smile with one of my designs, usually on the dog bandannas, and that makes my day way more than any sale. I think bringing that joy to someone is why I continue to do what I do and keep working to make it better, and events like this let me do that,” said Mills.

Through the Brunch Market, Mills is able to take the joy screen printing brings her and pass it along to someone else through her product. She is also able to encourage growth within herself by selling her items to locals at the Brunch Market.

“I used to have really bad anxiety when I was in large groups of people. When I started coming to events like the Brunch Market, I was able to talk in a large group of people, but it was about something that I love and I am really into, so it was so much easier for me to speak on it. Overtime it has helped my anxiety and stress levels when I’m with a lot of people,” said Mills.

Wayne Swatlowski is the owner of Marblest Creations. Swatlowski makes pendants and wine stoppers out of glass marbles he fuses in his microwave. He started out with beaded jewelry as a hobby, but then discovered the fusing process and began using glass marbles since they were easy to fuse and work with when designing his products.

Swatlowski feels a personal connection to the people who choose to attend the Sunday Brunch Market. He has been involved since fall of last year, and both the impact the event has made on him and has allowed him to make on others is remarkable.     

“My work is very art-focused and made by hand, by me, and I feel this connection with the [Cultural Arts] Center since they allow me to promote my art while they are also promoting other’s work at the [Cultural Arts] Center,” said Swatlowski.

Through the Sunday Brunch Market, Swatlowski has not only been able to make an impact on the people attending, but he claims that their impact on him has been equally significant.

He feels that since he hand-makes every one of his pendants and wine stoppers, he is able to give each person a small piece of his creativity and, by extension, of himself, which he believes they can use to inspire their own sense of creativity.

“I think that what I make is pretty unique and I do think that people are often impressed by it, especially when they learn it is handmade. I feel that, with how unique my stuff is, I inspire others to use their creativity and make something just as unique, but of their own,” said Swatlowski.

Swatlowski believes that local vendors participating in the Sunday Brunch Market enables people in the community to shop locally as well as enables artists to get exposure for their work. In fact, through the Sunday Brunch Market, Swatlowski’s customers have led him to further opportunities for growth in his budding business, something he would not have without this event.

“Through this event, I have had several customers give me leads about different upcoming shows and shops that are open to doing consignment with local artists and I have had some of these materialize. A customer led me to Carytown Coffee where I will be setting up my products soon as well as the Lee Davis Craft Show,” said Swatlowski.

Jay Hill is the owner of Brother Nobody’s Naturals. He first worked with glass and his wife worked in making jewelry, but over time he left glass work to make all-natural jams and he began to sell them at various markets, including the Brunch Market.    

For Hill, the Brunch Market is a family affair. He, his wife, and his son all work together on the business. It is through this event, and others like it, that Hill is able to grow his business organically and at his own pace. In particular, Hill feels that these events impact the business because the owner gets a chance to interact with customers face-to-face, since for most business owners, this is not realistic. He enjoys the face-to-face contact with his customers at these events, and he believes that it is through these small interactions that he is able to give encouragement to others to go out on their own business or artistic endeavors, as well as grow himself by learning something new from each person.

“The personal interaction has impacted me the most. I learn things from other people at every Brunch Market. I like to say that everybody is Buddha. Every time I talk to a new person I am learning, and this is growth for me personally, not just growth business wise, which I think is a large impact these events have on the vendors,” said Hill.

Cat Sweeney was a vendor at the Brunch Market for the Dominion Green Power Program. This program has been around for roughly 10 years, and Sweeney is a contractor with Dominion. By signing up for their program, Richmonders have the opportunity to support renewable energy through their existing electrical bill.    

Sweeney believes the impact of these events lies in the connection and unity they bring to a community and the potential difference the unity can make at the state or possibly national level.

“By hosting events like this, places like the Cultural Arts Center give us the opportunity to get the community to come together and show Dominion that they are passionate about green energy as a whole, and this has the potential to shift the company’s focus on a national level. I also think it enables the community to come together and appreciate the unique items and vendors their community has that no other does, which encourages local vendors to grow, and, by extension, encourage growth and connection in the community,” said Sweeney.

The local artisans and vendors made it clear: The Cultural Arts Center’s Sunday Brunch Markets encourage young artists and business owners to follow their passion. Encouraged, these vendors expand their business through the events, reaching more people in the community through a laugh, smile, or by inspiring them to pursue their own goals.

Inspired themselves, the customers often return to give opportunities for growth to the vendors. With this connection built between the vendor and the customer, there are now people in the community encouraging one another to grow and develop their passions into a livelihood, and this connection and unity within a community holds the potential for change to be made by locals in their community, state, or country.

The next time you decide to go to the Cultural Arts Center’s Sunday Brunch Market, you can feel good knowing that you are supporting a non-profit working to make all of these possibilities a reality in Richmond. You have the opportunity to make your mark on the community every first Sunday from until November - make sure to stop by.