Off to Market

Chico’s vibrant downtown is brighter on Thursdays

Consider yourself lucky if you’ve stumbled upon downtown Chico, and luckier if you live in one of the neighborhoods surrounding it. The area is a mix of businesses, people and activity on any day, but on one special night each week, the downtown area bursts to life with an array of vendors selling everything from radiant organic flowers and tasty tamales to beautiful jewelry and fresh vegetables.

The Thursday Night Market in the core of downtown—on Broadway between Second and Fifth streets—is a staple during the spring and summertime. The Downtown Chico Business Association (DCBA) started the evening market 11 years ago to draw Chicoans—and others—to downtown shops and eateries. The street festival and certified farmers market has since become a hotspot, attracting thousands of folks each week to the vibrant heart of the city.

Becky Watner, assistant director of the DCBA, said the event consistently brings visitors from Chico’s neighboring communities as well as residents who live throughout the city. More than 100 vendors set up shop on the cordoned-off street for the market, which runs from 6-9 p.m. each Thursday (unless it rains) through September. Market browsers will find a variety of arts and crafts such as homemade clothing, and delicious and eclectic food, including specialty olives, smoked salmon and frozen organic grass-fed beef. This is in addition to an ample supply of fresh produce and plenty of entertainment for both children and adults.

Local bands and songsters often perform, as do belly dancers, African dancers and even magicians. This year, the entertainment will spill into the newly remodeled City Plaza toward the south end of Broadway. The plaza is well equipped for entertainment, with a large, ornate stage with a domed roof, nice bench seating, raised grassy knolls and a fountain that doubles as a playground for kids. The new venue is a hit with vendors, visitors and performers alike.

“It just really feels good to be out there,” said Watner.

Originally from Southern California, she came to the North State to attend Chico State University about 13 years ago. Chico’s charm stole her affection, so she made it her home. She chose to stay, in part, because she enjoyed the city’s various events such as the Friday Night Concerts in the Park and, of course, the market. And for folks who have lived here for many, many years, events like the market are just additional excuses to stick around.

“They’re another reason to feel a connectedness to the place they live,” Watner said.

The attendance at Thursday Night Market has grown steadily each season, with the exception of last year (when the City Plaza was under construction), Watner said. The event typically opens with a boom in the spring and begins to slow down in the fall. Surprisingly, its record attendance is during the summer months when a majority of Chico State students are out of town.

Despite downtown’s proximity to the university—and student housing—the market is attended by a wide range of residents, from public officials to families to teenagers. Still, those who frequent the event have at least one thing in common—they like the fun, casual atmosphere that is characteristic of life in Chico.

“People who wear suits to work put their shorts and flip-flops on and head downtown [to the market],” Watner said. “It really makes for a nice evening out.”