DOVER, Del. (AP) — Justin and Tara Brant held the grand opening of Black Swamp Artisanal Market Sept. 24 in downtown Dover, in a 1,200-square-foot store that had been vacant for several years.
Tara, a registered nurse, is an Army veteran, while Justin serves in the Navy but plans to farm full-time soon.
Farmers themselves, the Brants are leading a team of more than 25 vendors offering farm-fresh meats, eggs, butter, cheese, yogurt, vegetables, herbs, spices, flowers, honey and baked goods along with handcrafted soaps, lotions, oils, jewelry and furniture. Art and local photographs are also on sale.
“The response has been wonderful,” said Tara. “We’ve received great feedback and lots of positive comments. It’s been awesome.”
The Brants, members of the Farmers-Veterans Coalition, display products on custom wood furniture made by Fortitude Furnishings, owned by a U.S. Marine Corps veteran in Georgetown, and that furniture is also for sale.
Amy Spampinato of Dover, who was shopping Thursday with her family, said the market “makes my life easier.”
“I always thought something like this would be a good idea with all the farmers in the area. Before, I would drive all over to buy at the different farms, but now it’s all curated in one spot,” she said.
She also likes the look of the store.
“Ambience and décor matter. This is a beautiful place to shop,” Spampinato said.
Hours are Thursday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours Friday until 8 p.m.
The story behind “Black Swamp.”
The market is named after the Brants’ farm where they raise pigs and chickens near Felton, and they named their farm after the road it’s on.
Last year they started selling their pork and eggs at markets, including the Capital City Farmers Market in Dover. They thought about opening their own store, but didn’t think they’d have the time and wondered if they’d be able to offer much besides pork and eggs.
Then they were asked if they would open a store for multiple vendors by representatives from the Downtown Dover Partnership and Unlock the Block, a program with the goal of reducing vacancies in the downtown business district by assisting entrepreneurs.
“The community was extraordinarily supportive of us at the farmers markets,” said Tara. “They’re knowledgeable about sustainable farming. When we were approached about starting an artisanal market, we had no problem getting on board, and we’ve received a lot of support from other merchants.”
“Artisanal” means made in a traditional or non-mechanized way, not from a factory. The products are grown or raised locally — homemade, handcrafted. The vendors are sourcing the items for their products as sustainably as they can.
Diane Laird, executive director the Downtown Dover Partnership and co-chair of Unlock the Block, said the groups asked the Brants about opening a store because they were “steady, successful vendors” in the Capital City Farmers Market.
“We have worked with them for over a year, from concept development to store design, negotiating a commercial lease, and coaching on marketing this exciting business concept,” Laird said. “We also anticipate that, through this kind of incubation, sales could support individual vendors launching their own stores.”
A team including Cindy Small, business advisor for the Small Business Development Center, is providing assistance with support from NCALL/Restoring Central Dover, Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, the city of Dover, the Delaware Division of Small Business, True Access Capital and the Small Business Development Center.
“Small businesses are the cornerstone of Delaware’s economy and this marketplace creates the opportunity not only for Black Swamp Farmstead, but for several other small businesses that will make up this cooperative,” said Small in a press release. “It’s a win-win-win situation for the businesses, residents and Dover.”
Tara said the process started by talking to people at farmers markets and gathering business cards.
“We sent emails to keep them updated on the progress. Then people started approaching us, asking if they could sell their items, and it took off from there,” she said.
The market has the look of one store — no individual stalls — but each vendor labels products with the vendor’s company logo and information.
“The biggest challenge was the construction — renovating the store,” said Tara. “That took a long time because of the covid restrictions.”
Laird said the opening of the market is a positive for downtown, especially after the closing of the Bayard Pharmacy next door earlier this month.
“We are very saddened to lose the Bayard Pharmacy on the block, and we are focused on prospecting for a business category to complement the artisanal market,” Laird said.