The Seattle Night Market Makes Its Triumphant Return
Everything you need to know about the market’s history, schedule, and upcoming events.
Northwest Marketplaces President Ryan Reiter jokes that he grew up on Seattle street corners and in parking lots. His parents, Jon and Candace Hegeman, founded the Fremont Sunday Market, the second longest-running market in King County after Pike Place Market, and Ballard Farmers Market when Reiter was just a child. From that upbringing, he has a slew of eclectic “aunts and uncles,” small vendors and business owners who became family.
In 2010, Reiter returned from Los Angeles to rejoin his family business Northwest Marketplaces, which grew under his leadership from outdoor markets and programming to include new events like Mobile Food Rodeo, Trucktoberfest, Taco Libre Showdown, the Seattle Street Food Festival, and more. It also oversees the Seattle Night Market, a monthly event that’s one of the coolest things to do in Seattle right now.
“The goal was to find fun ways to have off-the-cuff curbside discoveries for locals of what we like to call ‘chefprenuers,’ people who are big on passion and ideas, but didn’t have the budget to go into a brick and mortar right away,” said Reiter.
One of those “chefprenuers” include Sam Dangol from Kathmandu MomoCha. Dangol worked alongside his wife at the Fremont Sunday Market, where she sold imported Nepalese clothing and craft items. Dangol presented his idea to Reiter of starting a food business centered around Nepalese street food and Himalayan momo dumplings. Kathmandu MomoCha began in 2019 as a small booth at the same market and grew to include a larger booth and food truck, operating at the Seattle Night Market, University Farmers Market, and offering frozen dumplings for order and delivery.
“The Seattle Night Market is one of the best markets in Seattle,” Dangol said. “I haven’t seen that many people gathered in one place having a good time with good food and music. That is something that is very important. It plays a big role. A lot of people come out so all the small businesses get an opportunity to show what they have. We have both our crafts and our food to offer a variety for people to experience and buy.”
The concept for Seattle Night Market was born from a collaboration with the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA) to create events centered around food trucks. In 2015, as Reiter and his team were working to create a similar program for the South Lake Union neighborhood, they saw it as an opportunity to recreate and include the night market concept as part of the SLU Saturday Markets program. He drew on international open-air markets for inspiration.
“You see this in Europe; there is a huge priority to promote walkable neighborhoods, to rethinking public spaces. We look at ourselves as community accelerators, activating community squares. This is where you can get out of your car, walk around, see your neighbors, and really get a better sense of your city just by feeling included, by feeling like it’s your space as well,” said Reiter.
In 2019, the team moved the Night Market to the Magnuson Park Hangar 30, an indoor space that would allow these events to continue during cold weather months with more space and better parking accommodations. It would seem then that there was nothing to stop it from becoming one of the largest, most anticipated events in the city until COVID came.
As a result, Reiter faced a lack of sponsors and the closure of many food businesses. He, along with his team at Northwest Marketplaces, could not see a way to host more cost-prohibitive events like the Seattle Street Food Festival, and also considered canceling the Seattle Night Market series. Instead Northwest Marketplaces, a small business of four employees including Reiter, shed much of its prior events from the roster and redirected its efforts to reopen its night markets with increased security, efforts to ensure proper COVID protocols, and diverse programming, all without sponsorships.
“We are unique now that we’re 100% sustainable. We are powered by the people,” Reiter points out proudly.
Their newly sustainable model means greater freedom for his team to curate graphics, live music, and regular programming based on direct feedback from attendees. In an effort to ensure safety protocols, the team rebranded the markets to be a 21+ event. Its newly reopened October Night Market drew over 3,000 attendees and since then, a majority of its vendors reported a 15 to 23% increase in sales.
“What we realized was that if you don’t try something, you’re just as worse off. It’s vital to not only your survival but for micro and small businesses to have a venue,” said Reiter, who also pointed to efforts by participating vendors to pivot and adjust and to community members who volunteered. “Everybody realized we were in this same pool. Everybody needs to have as many opportunities to get out, promote, and celebrate. Your family business is just like anybody else’s. We didn’t want anybody to feel like they couldn’t do it.”
He likens some of the effects of COVID on small businesses to the dot com crash of 2008 to 2009. Reiter sees the beginnings of a pop-up resurgence with a boom in entrepreneurial efforts, added focus on handmade or vintage items, and even brick-and-mortar businesses moving back to a curbside storefront.
Looking optimistically to the warmer months, he paints a picture of the night market with the hangar doors left wide open letting in the warm summer air, and attendees walk in and out freely with drink in hand enjoying live music until the sun sets. The Night Market will continue monthly at the Hangar with one exception—it will return on July 16 to the SLU Saturday Market where it began as a placeholder for the Seattle Street Food Festival.
Upcoming Night Market Dates:
- May 28 - New Moon
- Lucha Libre Volcanica Wrestling
- June 17-18 - Summer Solstice Night Market (two Days)
- Friday Night Dance Night: DJ Four Color Zack & DJ J. Espinosa (Bay Area)
- July 16 - South Lake Union - All Ages
- August 20 - Autumn Moon Festival