Rockford City Market: Open All Year Long

If you find yourself missing the sense of community experienced at outdoor Rockford City Market, there’s an easy solution: Indoor Rockford City Market.

Less visible, but with a cozy vibe of its own inside 116 N. Madison St., it offers tasty fare five or more days each week in its food hall, plus events like themed pop-up markets, live music, trivia contests and yoga classes, all winter long.

“We’re super excited to keep building on the success of the indoor market,” says Becca Bartels, Director of Market Engagement at Rockford City Market. “It’s a friendly atmosphere where people enjoy gathering while supporting small businesses that are getting up and running.”

Rockford City Market grew out of Rock River Development Partnership in 2010. Its goal was to provide startups with a low-overhead way to test out their products and gain a following. Its popularity exceeded expectations immediately and, by 2019, attendance at the Friday night outdoor market hit 111,000. Even with a pandemic raging, 90,000 people turned out in 2021. Many small business success stories have emerged.

“Woodfire Pizza and Canine Crunchery are just two examples of businesses that got their start at Rockford City Market and grew into their own storefront locations,” says Bartels.

Bolstered by public enthusiasm, Rockford City Market opened its indoor location in 2019, purchasing and restoring a historic building adjacent to the outdoor market location. A century ago, the 116 N. Madison St. building was home to one of the first Harley-Davidson dealerships in the country.

The location offers a commercial kitchen that entrepreneurs can rent out. In 2021, 55 small businesses, including food truck owners, made good use of it.

There are plenty of common areas inside the market to gather with friends and enjoy food and beverages sold by the four long-term tenants.

Crust & Crumbles is an artisan bakery specializing in croissants, danishes, cruffins and fermented breads. It also sells gourmet brunch and lunch fare and, occasionally, pizza. Fans have learned to buy the wildly popular baked goods early in the day, before they sell out.

The Quixotic Bakery grew out of Grace Lutheran Church with a goal of providing opportunity to young people. It sells treats that indulge the tastebuds, like ice cream, brownies, cookies and sweet rolls.

Velvet Robot Coffee Lab roasts its own beans and cold brews gourmet coffee. It recently opened a second location (VR2) at Forest City Church on Alpine Road.

Guzel Restaurant serves authentic Mediterranean-style foods like falafel, shawarma, baba ganoush, chicken kebobs, salads and desserts like baclava.

Rockford City Market also rents out spaces for weddings, meetings and other private events. The 3,300-square-foot Bowtruss Room has exposed brick and wooden beams. Market Hall is even larger, with industrial cement floors and original limestone walls. Garage-style doors lead outside, ideal for a summer party or for watching snow fall.

“It’s a gorgeous space with exposed brick and 1920s woodwork, and our pricing is very competitive,” says Bartels. “We work with 10 local catering businesses, so there are plenty of options for dining.”

Ten weddings took place at Rockford City Market this year and Bartels expects that number to grow fast.
Themed indoor pop-up markets happen a few times each month, usually on the first Friday and on a Saturday. Themes relate to the season, such as the 40-vendor Holiday Market held last month in coordination with Stroll on State.

Also popular are Rockford Vintage Markets, which began in 2015. These one-day-only markets feature good quality vintage, antique and repurposed items, like home and garden goods and furniture, clothing, jewelry, artwork and children’s items. Admission is free and there’s often food for sale and entertainment.

“Unlike the outdoor market, where vendors commit to showing up every week, the indoor pop-up markets give vendors a one-time chance to see if there’s any interest in their products,” explains Bartels.

Looking ahead, Rockford City Market will continue to build its partnerships with private and public organizations in 2022, says Bartels. Last year it forged a plan with Rockford Park District to offer more children’s activities at the outdoor market. It also partnered with EightFifteenCapital, a group that promotes minority-owned small businesses, and with Artale Wine Co., which hosted a 2nd Annual Whiskey & Wine tasting event.

The public’s enthusiastic embrace of Rockford City Market has revealed a hunger for the simple pleasure of being together and supporting one another’s endeavors. It’s a pleasure that doesn’t need to end when the weather turns cold. Learn more at ❚