Every few months, the popular Astoria bar Judy & Punch turns into something else entirely: a tiny market where local creative entrepreneurs sell their products. The market only lasts for a few hours, so blink and you miss it—but if you make it there, you’ll find some truly unique treasures made by your neighbors.
The idea for Astoria Tiny Market was conceived by local illustrator and designer Widad Franco a few years ago.
Franco had started her own business, Widycat Designs, in 2013. She primarily designs illustrated greeting cards, but also sells calendars, stickers and prints, as well as children’s books in small batches.
“I’ve always loved storytelling, and I realized there were few things in the greeting card market that really spoke to me,” she said of her inspiration to start Widycat Designs. Her cards are sweet, colorful and “highlight the beautiful things in small moments of everyday life.” She’s also known for her cat illustrations.
She’s been adding more greeting cards and other products, and little by little, her business has been growing. She even launched Spanish language greeting cards a couple months ago, which have been very popular because they tend to be harder to find, she said.
“And every once in a while, I do hand-painted stuff,” she added. “Those are more labors of love that I add to my collection: bird houses, lamp shades, paintings.”
She had founded Widycat Designs when she lived in Brooklyn, but she found the artist community in that borough to be “closed off and not very welcoming of new creative businesses”—perhaps because the community there has been big and established for a very long time, she said.
When she moved to Astoria in 2014, she found a very different community.
“When I moved to Astoria, I started meeting a lot of creative entrepreneurs, especially women, and I thought there was a lot of opportunity to help each other, because I was slightly traumatized by the experience in Brooklyn where people kept that niche very close, and I was like, ‘Well, you know, there’s no reason why we should do this; we should embrace everyone else who does things like you do,’ and I feel like we’re stronger together.
“Being in that environment in Queens, in Astoria, and sharing with other creative people, has actually helped me grow my business,” she continued.
But while she already had an Etsy store and her own online shop, widycat.com—as well as some pop-up shops in local businesses like Brass Owl, Chateau le Woof and Bing’s Gifts in Sunnyside—she knew there was another way she could grow her design business while helping other entrepreneurs.
“Meeting all these other creative people and being creative together, I realized that a lot of people did not have an available, cost-effective place to try out their products,” she said.
She decided that she and her fellow creatives should come together to sell their goods.
“Women creative entrepreneurs need to support each other.”
Along with the other founding members of Astoria Tiny Market—Regine Mechulan of Silly Reggie, Christine Gibson of Queens Knits, Renee Heitmann of Single Girl Cookies and Megan Sipe of Chocolate Dances—Franco started Astoria Tiny Market.
So during the holidays of 2015, Astoria Tiny Market had its first trial. Back then, they were hosted by Crescent Wine and Spirits.
“It was a really big success, because everyone was excited about being able to sell their things with other creative entrepreneurs,” Franco said. “The neighborhood was very excited.”
With the wide variety of products—greeting cards, wine, chocolates, knits and more—there was a non-competing element to the market, and “people could buy everything they needed for holiday parties and holiday gifts in one market,” Franco said.
Since the first market went so well, the group put on another Astoria Tiny Market for Valentine’s Day, and then another for Mother’s Day.
When they moved to Judy & Punch starting with the 2016 holiday market, their attendance tripled.
“The guys at Judy & Punch are really open to local businesses, and it’s mutually beneficial, because we bring a different crowd [to the bar],” she said. “It was a really great combination.”
Each market has about seven vendors—the founding members plus two or three guest vendors—and is a one-day event. Now, there are about five Astoria Tiny Markets each year.
“We keep growing and we keep expanding and we keep learning, so we might [someday] do a two-day market; who knows,” she said. “It’s very fluid and that’s one of the reasons why it’s important for us to still keep it tiny.”
It’s important that as the market grows, it stays creative, effective, efficient and inclusive of everyone, she said.
“We really like to emphasize locally made [products] because we want to serve our community,” she said.
People from Manhattan and Brooklyn have asked to be part of the market, Franco said, “but we want to keep it Queens makers.”
The next Astoria Tiny Market will be at Judy & Punch on Saturday, Aug. 12, from 2 to 6 p.m.
Additionally, Franco produces two bazaars a year at Q.E.D., which are also “100 percent Queens makers,” Franco said. These bazaars are much bigger than the Astoria Tiny Market, with about 20 vendors.
The Q.E.D. Summer Bazaar is on Saturday, July 22, from noon to 5 p.m.
With Widycat Designs, the Astoria Tiny Market and the Q.E.D. bazaar, Franco certainly has her hands full, but she loves what she does.
“It’s been a very special experience because I’ve gotten to push myself as an artist and try to offer people something very distinctive that you can’t really find out on the market, and that to me is very important,” she said.
There is something much more personal in giving a loved one a greeting card that was lovingly made by a local artist rather than picking up a Hallmark card at a chain pharmacy, and Franco understands that her business’s power is in offering something only she can create.
Photos courtesy of Widad Franco
Q.E.D. Summer Bazaar
Saturday, July 22
Noon to 5 p.m.
27-16 23rd Ave., Astoria
Summer Astoria Tiny Market
Saturday, Aug. 12
2 to 6 p.m.
Judy & Punch
34-08 30th Ave., Astoria