The Rapidian

Local nonprofit helps small businesses thrive at Indie Flea Market

Grand Rapids organization the Vendor Exchange is working to create a community of artisans to help them grow.
Ethereal Acorns booth at the February Indie Flea Market.

Ethereal Acorns booth at the February Indie Flea Market. /McKenna Peariso

KaileePaints booth at the February Indie Flea Market.

KaileePaints booth at the February Indie Flea Market. /McKenna Peariso

Each month Grand Rapids artists, designers, and entrepreneurs gather in the lobby of the Wealthy Theatre to celebrate local business and creatives at the Indie Flea Market. The market, which takes place the first Saturday of each month, is put on by local non-profit group The Vendor Exchange. The organization works to create bonds in the community between local artisans and the public as well as to educate and empower emerging businesses.

The Indie Flea is just one of the recurring events held by the Vendor Exchange, the group also offers several opportunities for Grand Rapids startups to network, learn, sell their products and to establish themselves in the community.

The Vendor Exchange is a socially responsible company that puts an emphasis on its events, and on its collaborated businesses, to be environmentally and socially ethical. All of the events put on by the group are plastic free and all flyers and brochures are printed on sustainable, eco-friendly paper. This dedication to environmentally-friendly business is prominent in almost all businesses associated with the organization. One booth that is a part of the Vendor Exchange, KaileePaints, uses recycled wood and restored frames to create her intricate decorative pieces. Another vendor, Ethereal Acorns, crafts jewelry and keepsakes from nature including acorns and other organic materials.

Many of the small businesses that operate through the Vendor Exchange also have strong ties to charities that benefit from their sales. Trades of Hope is a booth that can be found at many Vendor Exchange shopping events which sells merchandise made by women in other countries to help benefit their families, their communities, and their local economies. Amanda Joy-Gilbert of Happy Henna does a variety of Henna creations including ‘crowning’ local cancer patients as a form of therapy. This is the art of putting a henna design on the head to help women battling cancer cope with the hair loss.

The Vendor Exchange’s success in helping local creators and small business is an example of how the Grand Rapids community is a great place for artisans to grow their business. “I really think Grand Rapids supports small businesses and creatives much more than other cities,” said Kailee Naber of Kaileepaints who has been a part of the Vendor Exchange since the beginning. “The community of artists has been very uplifting as I’ve been getting started.”

Grand Rapids has long been considered a haven for artists as the city continues to churn out more creativity and opportunity each year. “I think it’s very positive,” said Amanda Joy-Gilbert about her experience with the Grand Rapids art scene. “I think that especially here on the East Side of Grand Rapids it’s all about artists and local artists and supporting people.”

Another event hosted by the Vendor Exchange is The Moonshine Movie Market, held the third Thursday evening of every month it offers an opportunity for small-time vendors to sell their work at the Pop Up shop-GR on Division Ave in the downtown arts district. The event is a different type of shopping experience as it plays a silent movie and Jazz music while shoppers can browse the work of local artisans.

Networking events are also put on by the organization regularly to invite an open dialogue for artists looking for insight on establishing a business in the Grand Rapids area.

These events are helping to cultivate a community of successful artists that help make Grand Rapids the culture hub that it is. “I think as there are more outlets like the Indie Exchange, people are more exposed to the value of shopping local and handmade, and that helps other artisans get out our names and our business and help thrive and help the community as a whole,” said local artist and vendor, Matthew Lacopelli.

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