How Chattanooga Market became the premier social spectacle of the season, with a look at several beloved vendors

Staff file photos from the Chattanooga Market
Staff file photos from the Chattanooga Market

This month, the Chattanooga Market returns to the open-air First Horizon Pavilion during a special two-day event.

"Opening weekend is my favorite weekend," says Melissa Lail, Chattanooga Market assistant executive director and director of marketing and media relations. "It is our homecoming."

For 24 years, every Sunday between April and November (and weekends in December at the convention center), the seasonal market enlivens the Southside, attracting thousands during its showcase of producer-only specialities.

"You have to have baked it, made it, sewn it or grown it to sell it here," says Lail.

Today, the market may be more aptly compared to a festival than a farmers market. In addition to nearly 200 regional vendors, each week it hosts live music, food trucks, alcoholic beverage stations and crowds that regularly top 5,000.

But it wasn't always that way.

Its growth "was a slow and steady build," Lail says. "It took time, a lot of sweat and some tears."

Lail and her business partner, Chris Thomas, now the market's executive director, bought the Chattanooga Market in 2008, seven years after its inception. At the time, there were only 20 vendors — mostly farmers, she says.

Neither Lail nor Thomas knew much about farming, but they did have creative backgrounds. While living in Texas, Lail had done marketing for PBS's hit kids' show "Barney & Friends," and Thomas owned an independent record label, Palo Duro Records.

With his musical connections, they added concerts to the market schedule — two free shows every Sunday, one at 12:30 p.m. and the other at 2 p.m. They obtained a beer license and nonprofit status. When the local food truck boom began around 2010, they invited a dozen-plus rigorously vetted trucks and carts to set up shop.

"Other changes came more slowly, like the themes," says Lail.

Now, the Chattanooga Market organizes a different theme each Sunday, ranging from the springtime Strawberry Festival to the highly anticipated Chattanooga Oktoberfest. Like opening weekend, the market's Oktoberfest is a special two-day celebration attracting up to 30,000 visitors.

"It's the biggest party I've ever helped plan. It's my second favorite weekend," Lail says. "The Chattanooga Market has become a Sunday staple for locals. It's also an important point of trade for farmers and artists and a place where people have easy access to fresh foods."

In 2023, Chattanooga Market vendor sales totaled over $7 million — money that went directly to the farmers and artisans, with only a small portion helping to support the market's staff.

"We have five full-time employees and about a dozen seasonal staff," Lail says.

Sponsor dollars from Acura of Chattanooga, Lodge Cast Iron, Tennessee Aquarium and First Horizon cover other expenses, such as security and insurance.

"We work really hard, but it's so fun," says Lail. Despite the big crowds each Sunday, Lail says she still gets to know the locals who turn out week after week, just as she's gotten to know the vendors who return every season.

Opening weekend, she says, is a chance to catch up with old friends.

"The vendors, the customers, the community is what makes it all go round," Lail says.

Know Before You Go

Address: First Horizon Pavilion, 1801 Reggie White Blvd. 

Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Sunday from April to November. (Opening weekend, April 27-28: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

Admission: Free

Parking: Parking lots surrounding First Horizon Pavilion and Finley Stadium cost $1 per hour.

Need to know: Pets are not permitted. 

Learn more: chattanoogamarket.com

  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Philip Swafford and Denise Scaglione, owners of Marshall and Rose
 
 

One for the Books

Who: Denise Scaglione and Philip Swafford

What they make: Book-themed jewelry, magnets, notebooks and other products

Chattanooga Market vendors since: 2013

Where to find them: At their reserved space near the restrooms

Denise Rose Scaglione and Philip Marshall Swafford met in 2002 as students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and married in 2006.

Ten years after they met, Scaglione and Swafford noticed that they had an abundance of used books they didn't want anymore, but they also didn't want those books to just end up in a landfill.

So, combining Scaglione's English degree, Swafford's fine arts degree, their shared experiences working at the same bookstore — although at different times — and Scaglione's time managing a local jewelry store, the couple launched their small business, Marshall and Rose, in 2012. Book-cover notebooks, storybook magnets and book jewelry like earrings and necklaces (especially the business's recently created storybook lockets) can be seen at Marshall and Rose's regular spot in the Chattanooga Market lineup. The lockets remind Scaglione of her grandmother, who used to wear a locket with her granddaughters' photos inside.

The couple's jewelry collection became popular after they started vending at the Chattanooga Market in 2013. Scaglione and Swafford realized they could make their jewelry in batches more quickly than some of the other time-consuming products they were making in the beginning, such as jewelry holders and vintage tennis rackets, so they turned their main attention to jewelry.

"We're not just selling jewelry," Swafford says. "We really are helping people reconnect to reading and stories..."

  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Items from Marshall & Rose
 
 

"And the books that they grew up with. It really helps them remember that moment when they read that book, and it connects people to things that they connected to in their childhood," Scaglione adds to the end of her husband's sentence.

October through December, Scaglione and Swafford spend "all day, every day" working on their products — sometimes through the night into the early morning hours — and sell at as many markets as they can to support themselves through the January to mid-March off-season. However, this year's off-season turned back on when Marshall and Rose dove into their first shot at wholesale.

Orders are coming in from all over the country, says Scaglione, with one international order from Australia.

Over the years, customers and fellow vendors have turned into friends for the book-loving couple, and they say many people stop by just to chat or ask for book recommendations.

"We just want to make sure everybody feels welcome at our little booth," she says.

Find them at marshallandrose.com.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga artist AJ Azike's artwork is inspired by his eclectic life experiences)

  photo  Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Jennifer Tadlock, owner of Gorgeous CHAOS Designs
 
 

Reduce. Reuse. Repurpose Clothing!

Who: Jennifer Tadlock

What she makes: Clothing

Chattanooga Market vendor since: 2013

Where to find her: Usually, the middle row of the market, closer to the back seating area and stage

When Jennifer Tadlock's grandmother died in 2009, her mother was going through her grandmother's belongings and was going to throw out her antique linens.

Tadlock says she was overcome with emotion and told her mother she couldn't throw away the linens.

"What're you gonna do with it?" her mother asked.

Tadlock went into the next room and cut out two circles and a neckline, stitched it together and made her first pillowcase dress — a creation that would lead to a summer of weekend pop-ups throughout Georgia, where she sold her new line of hand-painted pillowcase apparel.

Originally, Tadlock made upcycled clothing for girls and women and then got feedback from customers who wanted her to sell more adult sizes.

(READ MORE: Artists Susan Parry and Matt Thomas talk about the craft of glassblowing)

So Tadlock added the "drop dress" to her clothing line, a current front-runner among her products, which incorporates a vintage chenille fabric into the bottom of the design.

To continue to connect with her customers, Tadlock says she has to keep adding to her collection.

  photo  Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Jennifer Tadlock, owner of Gorgeous CHAOS Designs
 
 

"Every year, I come out with something new — something that drives me, something I like, something I want to create, something I want to make and something I want to wear," she says. "And when I hit all of those things, then they hit the rack."

Tadlock's clothing line, Gorgeous CHAOS Designs, has been going for 15 years and has had a presence at the Chattanooga Market for over a decade.

In 2019, Tadlock traveled to Oregon to learn how to Shibori dye, a Japanese color-dyeing technique. She says dyeing clothes was a way for her to process that her mother, for whom she was the caretaker at the time, was dying.

To Tadlock, vending at the market means supporting her peers and providing a space for women to "smile and laugh and twirl around" in her clothes — whether it's a dyed oversized romper or an upcycled bedspread — and feel youthful.

"The market vendors are not just vendors; they've become like market family," Tadlock says. "We take care of each other; we laugh with each other; we cry with each other. And that's why I drive from Woodstock, Georgia, on Sundays, 101 miles from my door to their door."

Check out Gorgeous CHAOS Designs, LLC, on Facebook.

  photo  Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Jill Bright, owner of MudHoe Pottery Studio
 
 

Wheeling and Dealing

Who: Jill Bright

What she makes: Pottery

Chattanooga market vendor since: 2023

Where to find her: Check out her Instagram @mud.hoe for updates

When Jill Bright's pottery wheel begins to spin, her hands work at the clay blocks with ease only decades of practice could bring. Soon, one of Bright's ceramic creations is born. From there, it might be added to the inventory she builds for the Chattanooga Market season, or it might stand as an example of her craft for the pottery classes she teaches at her Fort Oglethorpe studio.

Jill Bright, Chattanooga native and owner of MudHoe Pottery Studio, joined the Chattanooga Market in 2023 as a vendor of her many ceramic wonders — especially mugs, covered in bright-colored gradient glazes and the occasional humorous tongue-in-cheek saying.

"People love them," she says. "It's an affordable piece of art."

Bright spends most of her time teaching classes at her studio, showing pottery novices how to be patient with the wheel, and also how to hand-build their clay — her favorite method because of its laid-back nature and the "artistic touch" required.

When she's on the wheel, Bright says her mind doesn't wander from the clay — otherwise, the magic won't happen.

  photo  Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Jill Bright, owner of MudHoe Pottery Studio
 
 

"I think about what I'm doing. It's kind of like the zen thing where you're not even thinking; you're just being," she says.

Bright was involved in smaller markets in the past, so she could mainly focus on her business. She decided to venture into the Chattanooga Market last year and has now shifted gears to incorporate the vendor hustle into her schedule, cutting down a bit on teaching classes to spend time assembling her inventory in the off-season before it becomes a permanent fixture in the back of her car come April.

At the market, Bright sells mugs, bowls, jars with lids, earrings, pendants and other "little things" she likes to make. She brings an assortment from her collection each week to switch it up, keeping some of the same pieces in case a shopper wants to circle back for last week's mug they regretted leaving behind, while bringing in the new for those wanting more.

"I'm so excited about the season starting up. I'm living a blessed life," Bright says. "I don't know what I did in a past life, but I feel so fortunate to be able to share this and to live it."

Visit MudHoe on Facebook or @mud.hoe on Instagram.

  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Lee Uhelski and Teresa Graham, owners of Classy Chick Remade
 
 

Repurposing With a Purpose

Who: Teresa Graham and Lee Uhelski

What they make: Repurposed jewelry

Chattanooga Market vendors since: 2014

Where to find them: Dead center of the pavilion

Located smack dab in the middle of the market and all its hubbub, Teresa Graham and Lee Uhelski's booth is a smorgasbord of eccentricity and elegance, where camp and kitsch meet classiness. While you might find 10-inch plastic skeletons-turned-earrings, wearing top hats and holding champagne in their bony hands, or a charm bracelet made from Monopoly pieces, you could also find an old watch that's now a fancy necklace or a vintage cameo converted to a locket.

Browse through the earrings hanging from Bingo cards, bowls full of rings and piles of baubles spread across the tables, and you'll discover one of the most fun booths at the market.

The ladies met 30 years ago at a craft show, and they've been friends and co-crafters ever since, naming their business Classy Chick Remade.

Uhelski specializes in what she calls "very unusual earrings, [bracelets and necklaces], made out of anything and everything," and Graham calls her jewelry "embellished vintage" and likes to create "something unique, old, funky, clever."

The two scour thrift stores, antique shops, yard sales and flea markets to find old or broken jewelry, watches that no longer tick, maybe an isolated earring that's lost its partner — "stuff that people toss," Graham says. Then they repurpose it to create new jewelry pieces. They're adopting sad, forsaken jewelry, bringing it back from the brink of doom and giving it a new lease on life, readying it for a new home with one of their market faithful (these ladies have a slew of regular and loyal customers).

  photo  Contributed photos / Lee Uhelski and Teresa Graham's Classy Chick Remade booth at the Chattanooga Market
 
 

"We have thousands of parts — chains, beads, stones. You start using those pieces, and your mind gets creative with it," Graham says.

Uhelski even buys dollhouse miniatures and random trinkets to transform into new designs. "I love looking at things and thinking, how can I make that into earrings?" she says.

They spend up to 50 hours a week creating their jewelry, setting up and taking down their booth and selling at the market. And for Uhelski, that's on top of a full-time teaching job.

But they say it's worth it. They both enjoy the creativity of jewelry making, love the people they meet and are grateful for the customers who appreciate and buy their pieces.

"Our stuff is very different. I think there's something for pretty much everybody," Uhelski says. "If you can't find it in our booth, I don't know where you'll find it."

  photo  Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Kei and Pete Petersen with their dog, Bella
 
 

Sew What?

Who: Kei and Pete Petersen and Bella the Dog (aka the Market Girl)

What they make: Embroidered plaques, key chains, bookmarks, record art, etc.

Chattanooga Market vendors since: 2011

Where to find them: At their reserved space in front of the restrooms

It's easy to spot the Petersens at their same-place-every-week booth on the left side of the pavilion. If it's not Kei's vibrantly colored hair, which changes monthly from bright purple to hot pink to lime green, it might be the couple's eye-catching attire, which always fits the theme of the market that weekend: Halloween costumes, Oktoberfest outfits, ugly Christmas sweaters and hats.

But the couple's range of products, which they painstakingly craft every week to keep their booth fully stocked, stands out on its own. Take, for instance, Kei's walls of some 300 to 400 hand-embroidered plaques (she does all that stitching; Pete makes the frames for them). They have catchy slogans, such as "Espresso Yourself!" or "I Shih Tzu not."

There's a section of the booth where the naughty plaques hang, where you just might find something risqué, or even a carefully sewn swear word. The Petersens say that those always get noticed and are sure crowd-pleasers. "You can see somebody walking down the aisle, not smiling or anything, just looking," Kei says. "And they see my plaques, and they just die out laughing. Before you know it, you've got a huddle around the plaques."

  photo  Contributed photos / Portrait by Matt Hamilton / Items available at the Chattanooga Market from Kei’s Crafty Tearalins
 
 

After all, as much as they both love crafting for their business, Kei's Crafty Tearalins, the market is equally about the people for them. Their favorite thing about every Sunday at the pavilion is people-watching, along with the customers and vendors they've met there and now call friends. "We're like a big family," Kei says.

The Petersens arrive three hours before the market opens. It takes them approximately two hours to get set up and hang up all those plaques, key chains and decorated vinyl records. It takes them less than two hours to break it down again. "We've got it down to an exact science," Kei says.

They admit that it makes them feel good when someone buys something they worked hard to create. "You appreciate somebody willing to give their money for something that you made," Pete says.

But, they insist, they don't do it for the money.

"If we didn't sell anything all day long, we'd go back anyway, because it's just fun," Pete says. "Best job I've ever had."

Find them on Facebook at Kei's Crafty Tearalins.

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