OLIVIA WIESELER Scottsbluff Star-Herald
BAYARD – Tonia Verbeck has always had an eye for old and vintage items and a heart for local businesses. So, five years ago, she decided to set up what is now called the Heritage Market in Bayard.
“I started out with more vintage items and antiques…just buying from auctions and yard sales, and it got to the point where my husband is like, ‘What’s your plan here with everything? that?’ “I don’t know. I like it, but I don’t really have room for it,” Verbeck said. “…But another big part of it is handmade…it’s really important for me to support, I think it’s just an amazing thing to be a small business supporting other small businesses within your company.”
The biennial market began in a barn on a farm near Bridgeport. Verbeck collected several of his antiques for sale and also invited various sellers to participate. Since this first barnyard experience, the market has become not only a market of 70 vendors, but also its own showcase in downtown Bayard.
“My idea behind it was a pop-up style, so I never really planned on it being a Monday-Saturday showcase,” she said. “My thought was maybe just once a month, open up – so kind of similar to what we were doing with the markets, but on a monthly basis, a bit more often. But again, not a weekly showcase – not like a traditional showcase, I should say.
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The pop-up idea didn’t quite stick, however, thanks to the pandemic, Verbeck said.
“Then COVID hit, and so that prevented us from even opening our doors. We were originally supposed to open in March 2020, and (we) had our grand opening and everything lined up and (we were) devastated when it all hit,” she said. “So we held out until the end of May and had a big opening then. And, obviously, I couldn’t ask people to flock here once a month, because that compared to the markets, you know, we had a pretty good flow (of traffic) and so, at that time, I made the decision to open on Friday and Saturday every weekend.
This weekly opening quickly turned into a daily opening. The Heirloom Market Mercantile, which the storefront is called, now has hours Monday through Saturday.
It didn’t take long for Verbeck to decide to expand again.
“We were entering the summer of 2020, and it was kind of the first time people were racing to go out. We were seeing so many people flocking to the Midwest — I mean the number of people I’ve had here from New York, LA, Chicago, I mean, it’s wild,” she said. “They’re all just trying to get out there, and they come to the Midwest and just see what we are, just hit the road. And so, these travelers would arrive and ask: ‘Where is there to have a cup of coffee or a bite to eat?’ And originally, the back porch of my building was only used for storage, and so that made me think, “Maybe I could swing that.” So we added the coffee.
The cafe at the back of the building, called The Vault, filled another need in the small community of Bayard, Verbeck said. though she often receives questions about how her handful of businesses can thrive in such a small market.
“I think it’s surprising to a lot of people that it’s going well. I think the other advantage of where we are and what people are used to in the Panhandle is that you have to drive to get pretty much anywhere,” she said. “…It’s a good place in between.”
Verbeck also attributes much of her success to the fact that she has already established herself in the community with the biennial spring and fall markets, which she still hosts in downtown Bayard.
“Without the kind of having the markets and having that kind of familiarity with my clients — I don’t know — would it have been so successful? I am not sure. But, just letting people know that we’ve been doing it and have been doing it for a while, and with every market it continues to grow,” she said. “…I really believe that if I hadn’t had the markets, the reputation and the building from the start, it might have taken a little longer to get the business started and running.”
For Verbeck, it’s not just about providing Bayard with a place to shop; it was about providing an experience.
“I think the buyers who have come into the market are just looking for an experience, right? So they want to come, they want to shop, they want to eat, drink,” she said. “And so, it’s kind of a place to be able to – like a destination to be able to do all of that.”
Verbeck’s hope is to one day see the small town of Bayard have a thriving downtown feel, like it has in its storefront and markets. If other businesses open next to hers, she said she could see Bayard becoming another Panhandle destination.
“I would love to see this town full of more stores so people would make the trip here and could make a whole day out of it,” she said. “This is my dream.”
The Heirloom Market Mercantile, located at 401 Main St. in Bayard, is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Vault Cafe is open 7am-2pm Monday-Friday and 8am-2pm Saturday.
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