Market Values 

The Butler Street Bazaar opens downtown.

Beyond South Main Street, you know you'll find loft apartments and the river, but now, there is something new -- a not-quite farmers' market, the Butler Street Bazaar, which will hold its grand opening 3 p.m. this Friday.

A week before the opening of the bazaar (11 West Butler Street), there is neither bazaar nor market. There is only a big gravel parking lot in front of the Imperial Warehouse, home to a furniture company owned by the Magdovitz family for more than three decades. The lot and the loading docks are where the farmers and vendors of the Butler Street Bazaar will set up for the first month.

Brett Magdovitz, 26, market manager for the BSB, shares his visions for it while walking through the warehouse's furniture-filled halls: "The building needs renovation, but I hope to get all that on-track within the first month. The restrooms need to be redone . Look at this space. It was just a mess, loaded with stuff, and now, it's cleaned out. There is a fallout shelter in the basement, very cool. The roof needs work, but it can all be done, and then, we'll be able to move the vendors inside."

Magdovitz has been working on this plan since he moved back from Colorado earlier this year. Born in Memphis, Magdovitz left when he was 16, lived in Israel for a while, went to college in Iowa, joined a traveling Shakespeare company from Virginia, went back to college (this time in Indiana), moved back to Memphis, and then left to become a massage therapist in Colorado, moved to Washington, and returned to Memphis in March. When Magdovitz came back, he moved downtown and got the idea for the farmers' market. "Of all the places I've been, I've never been to a city without a farmers' market that is a thriving part of the community, and I felt that was missing in Memphis," he says.

To open a farmers' market, Magdovitz soon learned, he would need a permit from the health department, and to get this permit, he would have to meet all kinds of requirements. In health department code, a farmers' market "shall mean a place designated by a sponsoring organization where only fruits, vegetables, melons, berries, nuts, or honey, produced by the sellers thereof, are kept and offered for retail sale."

BSB will offer more than fruits, vegetables, nuts, and berries, and it won't have a sponsoring organization -- no church, school, or nonprofit. It's just Magdovitz. And to keep the bazaar running year-round, specifically during winter, he'll have to offer space to retailers who buy and sell but don't grow produce, which makes a farmers'-market license almost no option. The other requirements the bazaar hasn't met yet: public restrooms and a paved surface for the market stands.

Magdovitz wants the bazaar to be more than a market anyway. That's one of the reasons for its name. "There are markets everywhere, but how many bazaars do you know of?" he asks. So far, the BSB is a dusty parking lot, an old building with a cool fallout shelter, and a vision. "I wanted to get this going as fast as possible, and it would take me at least another three months if I were to go the official way," he says.

The way around the code, Magdovitz found, was a $64 special-event permit that allows him to operate from a gravel lot with portable toilets for a month -- maybe two, if the permit gets extended. This will give him some time for the necessary renovations and the business plan he needs for a loan. Permit or no permit, Magdovitz says he would have opened anyway and that he'll probably apply for a retail/produce license instead of a farmers'-market license. "First, I considered a co-op, but it takes a lot of work to establish a co-op. For now, the bazaar will be a for-profit business. Once it is up and running, we'll see what it may become along the way," Magdovitz says.

Live music from Becc Lester & Hank Sable, Billy Gibson, and Gusto, a lemonade stand, children's activities, a pea sheller, Greek food, and organic produce will be part of the bazaar's opening days. Soap-, candle-, quilt-, and jewelry-makers will set up their booths for free the first two weekends and then will be charged "a reasonable fee." For now, the bazaar will be open Saturdays and Sundays, though Magdovitz would like for it to become an all-week event. "The farmers may only come three days a week, but it would be great if some of the vendors would have a permanent spot down here," says Magdovitz. "This is how it works in other cities, and I think this is how it could work in Memphis too."

Butler Street Bazaar, 3-7 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, and 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, August 30th-September 1st. For more info, call 527-9700.

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