Walking through the Midwest Local Vendor Market, a regular gathering of artisans at the Outlets of Des Moines, you get the sense that you’re not just shopping—you’re exploring.
Here, dozens of vendors line the show floor, offering hundreds of handmade and hard-to-find goods, from makeup and jewelry to essential oils and tasty treats.
And while you can probably find exactly what you’re looking for, half the fun is stumbling on something you didn’t expect. Dill Pickle Popcorn, anyone?
“People always frown on the dill pickle idea… but then they try it and they’re like, Whoa!” said vendor Jeff Rotert. “That’s why we always bring samples to the Market.”
Jeff’s small business, Jeff E Pop, offers gourmet popcorn in traditional flavors, as well as more wild varieties. Alongside Dill Pickle, there’s Tutti Frutti, a mix of grape, lemon, blue raspberry and other fruity flavors; and Buttercorn, which is tossed with brown sugar, vanilla and no small amount of butter. For those who are looking to embark on a tastebud adventure, there’s Sweet Heat, an ingenious pairing of jalapeño heat and caramel sweet.
The Market gives customers a chance to explore new products and meet vendors in person. For artisans who are often competing with large online retailers, that’s a valuable opportunity.
While Jeff has had some success reaching his audience on social media, he says that there is no substitute for what the Market offers: an opportunity to reach a large volume of new customers face-to-face, where they can meet Jeff and see, smell and taste the product for themselves. Popcorn, like many of the products at the Market, is best experienced offline.
“You can’t sample stuff on social media,” Jeff said.
Another business benefit: When his customers try some of his more inventive flavors, like Dill Pickle, Jeff says they are often surprised. They end up falling in love with something new and purchasing a bag—a sale that probably wouldn’t have happened online.
For customers, another perk of visiting the Market is that they get to hear the stories of vendors like Elisha King,
Late one night, after her favorite cinnamon-roll shop had closed, Elisha was awoken by her wife, Tyondra, who loves to bake. The scent of dough and frosting filled the air. Tyondra had just made a big batch of cinnamon rolls. And they were good—so good, in fact, that the Kings decided to make a business out of them.
Today, the Kings’ business is growing—they hope to eventually open a brick-and-mortar store—but it’s still very much a family affair. Elisha rolls the dough, her wife mixes the batter, her daughter handles the baking, and her son helps with the labels.
For Elisha and her family, the Market gives their business valuable exposure to new customers. It also gives them an opportunity to make someone’s day a little sweeter.
“I want to do something that makes people happy,” Elisha said. “Right now, in this time, people need a reason to smile more than ever. They need something to make them feel better.”
Jeff, who had set up his table next to Elisha’s, had a similar take.
“This isn’t just a job or a business—this is my passion,” he said. “When you see people try your product and it puts a smile on their face, that’s what it’s all about.”
What to know before you go
What: The Midwest Local Vendors Market is a gathering of artisans that meets regularly at the Outlets of Des Moines. Dozens of vendors offer a variety of unique and hard-to-find goods: jewelry, décor, treats, bath bombs, totes and much more.
Where: The Outlets of Des Moines, 801 Bass Pro Dr NW, Altoona, IA
When: The Market is open 10AM-6PM on the following dates: Aug 28, Sept 25, Oct 23, Nov 13 & 26-27, Dec 4-5, 11-12, & 18-19
Admission: Free, no tickets required
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