Visitors gather Saturdays for Columbia’s Soda City Market on Main Street. (Photos by Ariel Meriwether/Carolina News and Reporter)
Many of the 150-plus small businesses that gather at Columbia’s Soda City Market each Saturday spin off their own store or use the market to boost an existing business.
Helping entrepreneurs launch themselves into the world is a key focus of the street market.
“The goal is to support as many small businesses as we can,” Soda City business manager Olivia Pope said.
Soda City started in Olympia 10 years ago as a way for hog farmer Emile DeFelice to sell goods from his farm and to bring in others who sold produce.
After many name changes and multiple locations, the downtown market runs every Saturday, rain or shine, in the heart of Columbia.
“The founder wanted a way to connect the community with produce and fresh meat, but it’s grown since then,” said special operations manager Erin Curtis.
Soda City provides vendors a built-in stable of potential customers.
Owners take up shop along four city blocks to sell homemade goods and meals and snacks from food trucks to thousands of people.
The market’s staff are strategic about where vendors are placed to put them in the best position for success.
“Pannerpete Vintage’s spot is right in front of the Hub (apartment tower) because their market is college kids,” Pope said.
Most vendors have sold at the market for years.
Laurie Grindley, owner of Meeting and Market Soy Wax Candles, has been at Soda City for five years and plans to stay.
She bought the business from a close friend, and coming to Soda City has done wonders for sales, she said.
“It takes a while to build up a customer base, and we only sell here,” Grindley said. “Soda City is a wonderful, wonderful market. We all love it so much.”
Meeting and Market will continue to keep its spot at Soda City even as her business gains traction.
But many other venders have found their businesses so successful that they opened brick-and-mortar stores.
Pannerpete Vintage is a direct example of the market’s impact.
Owners Katie and David Roberts for five years sold everything from vintage clothing to jewelry in the same spot each week before opening a storefront in Five Points.
“It was getting to the point where every other customer was asking, ‘Do you have a store we can shop with during the week,'” Katie Roberts said.
A store wasn’t always the goal. Pannerpete began on Facebook Marketplace before taking to Main Street.
“I started selling on Etsy in 2015, and I was really into thrifting,” David Roberts said. “I was running the business from home and started coming to Soda City on a whim.”
Despite having a storefront, Pannerpete Vintage continues to sell at Soda City every Saturday. The market serves as their biggest weekly sales day.
“We probably sell more stuff in those four hours than we do on a regular slow week at the store,” Katie said. “We averaged $250 to $300 on a Saturday. And I remember being super excited about my first $700 day. And now it’s like $1,500 to $3,000.”
Taking a chance on a storefront was a big financial decision. The couple was lucky to have found a lease near a relative’s shop, Katie Roberts said.
Soda City makes the whole picture work.
“Once you take out the cost of merchandising, then the rest of the money is going right into your pocket because it essentially costs you nothing to go to Soda City,” David said.
Reserving a spot at the market ranges from $65 for a standard vendor to $144 for food trucks.
Owner of New Edge Sharpening, Matthew Seibert, is following in Pannerpete’s footsteps.
He sells and sharpens knives at his company he runs from his home. But he continues to use the market as a stepping stone to customers.
“I use this as a marketing tool because not everyone brings their knives for sharpening to the market, so they take my card and call me during the week,” Seibert said.
With businesses growing each week, Soda City has spots for new vendors in untapped markets.
“It’s what we can do for you but also what you can do for us,” Pope said. “If you have something unique and would consider it new and fresh and not at the market currently, definitely apply.”