Wren Solares spent almost 20 years working as an event coordinator in London. When it was time to move back to her hometown of Milwaukee, she knew exactly what kind of event she wanted to produce: a chic older sister to the traditional street fair concept.
And it's good news to those of us looking for a relaxing, free event on winter Sundays.
MKE Up Market is a bi-monthly event held at MOCT, 240 E. Pittsburgh Ave., in Walker's Point, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. But this isn't your average street fair. Solares handpicks her vendors and curates the selection of goods. Vendors peddle everything from arts and crafts to lifestyle goods and fresh food. Shoppers can find homeopathic remedies, handcrafted pottery, secondhand clothes, fashion accessories, organic candles and much more.
"I want to make sure that we don't have ten people selling cupcakes or three people selling handbags. I want to make sure that we're particular and that we give other people a chance," she said. "We're looking for variety. I'd like to market us as the most flexible vendor market in Milwaukee."
The first MKE UP Market was held in early December. Due to the weather, it began as an indoor market and will continue as such through the end of April. The MOCT space can only fit 25 vendors, which creates an intimate setting, but Solares is looking to expand. She is in talks with the city to shut off the two blocks from Water Street to Pittsburgh Avenue to accommodate the growing market.
"Once we're outside, we'll be able to fit about 160 stalls," she said. "Our aim is to break areas down. You'll get a little fashion district, a little kids district."
MKE Up Market is dog-friendly and refreshments are always provided. "I know people love their Bloody Marys and mimosas on Sunday," Solares joked, so mixed drinks are available as well as non-alcoholic options like Virgin Marys.
And, of course, holding a market on Sunday afternoons in Wisconsin's winter months means airing live coverage of any important sports events. "It's Wisconsin. People love their football," Solares laughed. The Feb. 3 market is canceled due to the Super Bowl.
Fashion devotees will be excited to hear about the March 3 market, which will be a special "Milwaukee Fashion Week" event.
"With only 25 vendors, you want to change it up a lot and you want people to come as often as possible," she said. "Our Milwaukee Fashion Week event is after Milan (Fashion Week), it's after New York, and there will be a little lull - plus the weather will be nicer here, so people will be more in the mood to think about spring fashion."
Solares is still fleshing out the details of the event, but it's safe to say that it will be tres chic. Bjorn Nassett of Fashion Farmboy will be involved, along with other heavy hitters of the Milwaukee fashion scene. Solares hopes to involve charity initiatives like the Cinderella Project MKE as well as boutiques like reThreads.
"The idea is to create a 'fashion-style beauty bazaar,'" she said. There will be prizes, models, special mixed drinks and – of course – a doggy runway. The small entrance fee that will go directly to charity.
The next MKE Up Markets will be held Feb. 17, March 3, March 17, April 7 and April 21. Beginning in May, the market will be held outdoors.
For Solares, it's all about opening up the event to all types of people.
"We try to have some for men and women both," she said. "It's open to different types of people, different demographics. It's a fun day out, and there's no charge!"
Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.