One of Pulaski County’s most uniquely-conceived stores is closing it doors.
The owners of The Market on Main, which sells a variety of locally-sourced, health-conscious, and just plain interesting items, announced on Wednesday that they are going out of business.
“At the end of September, we are closing,” read a “Goodbye” message on the store’s website, marketonmainky.com. “This has been a hard and painful decision, but we simply cannot continue to sustain this place financially. It has always been a labor of love, but the pandemic has made it unmanageable.”
Jamie Fitzwater, who owns and operates Market on Main with her husband John, echoed that “labor of love” sentiment in a conversation with the Commonwealth Journal about the situation — one in which she expressed sincere emotion about the impact of the loss of the store on both her family’s life and the community itself.
“It’s something that was profitable for my family,” said Fitzwater. “We have loved many parts of it, and many parts of it have been very hard. We have the best customers in the entire world, and it’s very, very hard to see them go.”
Opened in September of 2015, the store — which is actually located on South U.S. 27 — presented a brick-and-mortar alternative to the popular downtown farmer’s market version of Market on Main. Even when the weekly summer event wasn’t going on, people would still have a central location they could visit to get much of the same goodies they’d find at the original Market concept. The store eventually became Fitzwater’s focus, as the outdoor market on the Judicial Center Plaza was itself brought to an end in 2017 after three years due to continued bad weather — a problem which would not plague the indoor retail spot.
Kentucky-made products — everything ranging from honeys and sauces, coffee and snacks, straight-from-the-farm old-fashioned dairy products and Crank & Boom Ice Cream, and other sorts of gifts and specialty items — were the focus of the store, much of it the kind of thing one could find at the original farmer’s market. For much of the store’s inventory, it was the only place in Pulaski County where one could conveniently go to make the purchase, and Market on Main was able to help support numerous other regional small businesses through the existence of their own.
“We love our customers, we love our vendors so much,” said Fitzwater. “... We started with a really small amount of things and I think a lot of people didn’t understand that, but we were bootstrapping it and trying to make it work with very little money. We’ve managed to grow from there.”
They also continued to carry a local favorite — Mac’s cole slaw, associated with the old Mac’s Village Pantry, whose space Market on Main would come to inhabit. Those who remembered the unique flavor of the cole slaw made a point of stopping by the store to pick some up for picnics, dinner, or any other occasion.
More recently, the store added the Oh Brother! Cafe with sandwiches, wraps, salads, and other tasty lunch fare, and last year opened a second location at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital — an effort that lasted only a short time in the age of the coronavirus.
The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 have “made what was a hard business really, really difficult,” said Fitzwater. “We survived it. We hung in there. We’ve done it for 18 months. But it’s just gone on too long. There is no more government aid, no Paycheck Protection. It’s all done.”
She said that as COVID case numbers went up in the area, “our sales go down.” People have been going out to shop less, she observed, and this year they were on track to do about half the business they did in 2019.
The LCRH location turned out to be “probably not the best idea, but we couldn’t have seen this coming,” said Fitzwater. “That hurt us a lot, and so we had to close that, and I had hoped that we could still make it through, but I just think a lot of people are staying home, or a lot of people are quarantined, a lot of different factors.”
The cafe has helped keep business going through the recent downturn in traffic, said Fitzwater; “We’ve done a ton of takeout during the summer,” she said. “It was kind of our saving grace.”
If things ever clear up, will they ever give it a second go with the store? Fitzwater said, “I want to say no, but I kind of feel like small business is like gambling or something; you keep going back to it. I’m so sad about giving up, but even now, I’m here selling out the rest of my inventory and thinking, ‘I don’t know, maybe if I just did this ...’”
As for the downtown market, that’s likely going to stay a thing of the past, largely because of the new farmer’s market in the Citizens National Bank Pavilion on East Mt. Vernon Street, said Fitzwater. The Kentucky Green Living Fair, another popular annual event put on by Fitzwater that has been a no-go for the past couple of years due to COVID concerns, is more up in the air. Fitzwater said they have booked dates for the event, but given the last two years, “I really don’t know.”
The store is still operating for now, and trying to clear out what’s still there. No items will be restocked, with the exception of milk, the last order for which will be taken on September 23. The cafe will remain in operation until September 24, though online orders may be suspended as they run out of ingredients, so customers are encouraged to call ahead. The week of September 27-30, the store will be open primarily for buying or picking up fixtures, furniture and the like. Cookie orders for pickup will be taken until September 28.
The last day for Mac’s cole slaw sales will be September 25. Not wanting the community to be without this longstanding tradition in food form, Fitzwater said she’s currently working on an arrangement to keep the cole slaw available through another means.
“It is often imitated, but it is (made authentically) here,” she said. “We want it to have a home.”
Follow updates at “The Market on Main” Facebook page or www.marketonmainky.com.
Fitzwater said that she’s “super grateful” to everyone who has supported Market on Main over time, and hopes that people strive to support the local small businesses that are continuing to operate.
“It’s been a long, long journey, but we’ve had this core group of people that have really supported us and made it worthwhile,” said Fitzwater. “Those people are still here, but ... it just doesn’t work.”