If I was to say the Saturday market at Montgomery Square was famous in New Zealand and widely known overseas I am sure it would be very difficult for anyone to argue with me.
The Nelson Market has become a true destination for anyone who visits the region and is the place people with business ideas have started the journey to becoming significant Nelson businesses; you need to look no further than Nelson Naturally, Proper Crisps, The Bead Gallery, Anathoth Jams, and Nature Smoke to name a few while others have remained relatively small but very popular regulars at the market.
Robynne Harvey and Royce Heine from The Cheese Shop and Ross Johnston the knife maker from Blackbird Valley Forge who has been coming to the market for 32 years are great examples of producers and sellers of handcrafted artisan products; in more recent times producers like Pic’s Peanut Butter, Urban Hippy Miso, Dove River Peonies and many others are businesses that have used the Nelson Market to launch their products and test the demand for them.
Nick Morris from Nelson Naturally started at the market selling science fiction books and even though his current business has changed to selling condiments he makes in Nelson and has expanded to selling to supermarkets and specialty food stores.
Morris loves the market environment; he told me a few months ago it is a great place to talk to people about new products and get immediate feedback from consumers.
Others have no desire to create a business empire and are happy to turn up each Saturday and sell things they have made or grown during the week and soak up the happy atmosphere.
But this fantastic outdoor market wasn’t always the big enterprise it is today, it was once a very small market started that has been nurtured by Nita Knight since 1978, starting at Miller’s Acre and moving to Montgomery Square in around 1980 when it outgrew Millers Acre.
It is a vibrant market, bursting with energy and appeals to people of all ages and from all walks of life, “there really isn’t another gathering place quite like this” says Knight, “it has become a place where people come together and it fills an important part of their social life and some feel something’s missing if they can’t get there for one reason or another”.
As vibrant as the market is now it took Knight many years to develop this successful business, it takes a lot of organising to make sure people can wander around the stalls safely and happily, find what they want and at the same time ensuring every stall holder gets as much exposure to the shoppers as possible.
Last week I had a coffee with Knight who I have known since the market moved to Montgomery Square and we talked about everything from the fun times to the challenges and everything in between.
“The early years were hard going but I was inspired and worked long hours, phoning all sorts of people to come and set up stalls.”
“Over the years I have had great feedback and support from some wonderful people, such as my family, friends, staff and our stallholders. The late Jane Evans was a great advocate and I have been lucky to have excellent staff throughout the years who have also become good friends.”
“Nothing was open in the City over the weekends except Eelcos’ Coffee Lounge, there was no Saturday or Sunday shopping in those days and some retailers were concerned about the potential effect of the market on their businesses but over time I think they came to see that it added to the vibrancy of the city and is good for everyone.”
Of course we had to talk about last year’s royal visit to the Market that Knight says the royals specifically requested “which I thought was quite special”.
She says she thinks every Prime Minister has visited the market when they have been to Nelson as well as a number of food writers and international journalists.
I have been a regular market-goer over the years, especially when it is asparagus or strawberry season and it is where I first tried some of those now iconic Nelson products like Urban Hippy Miso, Pic’s Peanut Butter and Doris’ sausages.
I also remember when my father-in-law used to buy orchids from Grant Ferguson each week. Ferguson and his brother owned Kiwi Orchids and he used to love going to the market each week to sell blooms that weren’t up to export standard and some time ago he told me he just loved meeting new people and bantering with regulars.
I asked Knight what made the market such a special Nelson business, “I think the market is about adding another dimension to people’s lives” she said “people who want a change of direction in their work life and have the belief in themselves to try something new. People come each week to catch up with old friends and meet new friends, also some they only get to see at the market”.
The Nelson Market supports lots of community fundraising initiatives by giving them complimentary space “I like to support organisations that help the community, for example the Pearly Queen has raised many thousands of dollars for the Nelson hospice and is the only roaming fundraiser we allow at the market – everyone loves her and people are so supportive of the Hospice.”
Any business like the Nelson Market is always evolving and changing “there are many more healthy and nutritious food options now.
“My son Jason helps me with the Nelson Market and manages Monty’s Sunday Market” and the most satisfying thing about her market business?
“I feel very lucky to have been able to create something special for Nelson, it is a business that gives enjoyment to a lot of people as well as myself” says Knight.