By Camille Chidsey, Marian Lien, Britt Reints

For the third summer, the Squirrel Hill Night Market will be bringing people together under the night sky for a celebration of diversity, culture, cuisine and community. Modeled after the open-air nighttime street festivals commonly found in cities across Asia and Europe, each event is designed to have a distinct “pop-up” feel: a dazzling display of vendors, entertainment and twinkly lights appears at six and vanishes without a trace just after 10pm, as if by magic. But it isn’t magic that creates these 12 hours of revelry within a disappearing venue; each Night Market is the culmination of months of planning and hard work from dedicated volunteers and staff of community organizations.

In 2015, months before the first string of lights crossed Murray Avenue, organizers began meeting to determine what resources would be needed and who could be counted on to provide them. Long talks with business owners and city officials were also required to ensure the production of a safe event and secure support from neighborhood stakeholders. Once the big picture was established, the real legwork began – and has continued each year since.

The bulk of the preparations takes place behind the scenes and includes tasks most people would never think of; someone has to apply for permits, schedule extra trash pick ups and make the drive to the City-County Building to procure dozens of No Parking signs. Those signs then need to be hung, and neighbors have to be notified of street closures. There are countless phone calls to be made and tasks to coordinate, any one of which can derail the project if it’s missed.

Of course, it’s not just time and careful management that makes a neighborhood festival happen. “Funding is needed to rent the pop-up tents, tables, PA systems and other equipment,” says Natalie Kovacic, events consultant for Uncover Squirrel Hill, one of the organizers. According to Kovacic, other costs for this type of public event include, “insurance, marketing the event, vendor space, lighting, and don’t forget access and use of electricity!” With no admission fees, much of these costs must be covered by event sponsors, which this year include Ten Thousand Villages, Eyetique, Gaby et Jules, Little’s Shoes, Dollar Bank, European Wax Center, Pamela’s Diner and Squirrel Hill Center for Rehabilitation and Healing. The Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh provides tents to the events each year.

On the day of each market, Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition coordinates volunteers to put up street barriers that both signal the start of the event as well as block vehicles from entering the space. They set up and wire the tents for electricity and tear everything down shortly after the close of the market. SHUC Litter Patrol ensures a clean street by the end of the night and coordinates city garbage pickup for the following morning.

Both Uncover Squirrel Hill and Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, the primary event organizers, are nonprofits working with limited resources to achieve many goals for the neighborhood. What, then, makes the tremendous effort required to produce the Squirrel Hill Night Markets each year worthwhile?

Contemporary Night Markets and pop-up street bazaars are welcome tools for revitalizing a business district. Bringing in experienced, well-liked vendors that compliment the neighborhood’s offerings can attract new customers to the area. Short-term events can also act as business incubators for aspiring entrepreneurs: a minimal investment means low risk of failure with an opportunity to earn a hefty income.

In addition to an economic impact, the Night Market experience also promotes a communal, social dynamism. Says Marian Lien, Executive Director of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, “Residents as well as visitors from our neighboring communities come out to the Night Market to enjoy the good eats and lively entertainment. What they also do, and with great enthusiasm I have observed, is leisurely visit and interact with neighbors, friends and family members that they may have missed during the hectic work week.”

This year, on June 17, Aug. 26 and Sept. 23, those neighbors, friends and family members can look forward to Night Markets that will feature more than 80 tents showcasing crafters from I Made It! Market, local independent vendors and non-profit service organizations. Nine food trucks will also line the street. Noticeable changes from 2016 include the addition of thematic events: June has an Americana theme, featuring music from The Squirrel Hillbillies and Buffalo Rose; August has a Backyard BBQ theme with classic rock performances from The Relics; September features a Hawaiian Luau theme, musical performances from the Steel City Ukuleles and the return of popular Samoan Fire Knife Dancers.

With over 10,000 visitors expected this year, extra volunteers are needed to help with litter, lighting, and tent set-up and tear-down. If you’d like to be part of the effort that brings the Squirrel Hill Night Market to life, please contact info@shuc.org for vendor and volunteer opportunities.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2017 Edition of Squirrel Hill Magazine.

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