Big Gay Market returns, bigger than ever

Jesse Neumann speaks with a customer at her stand Spilt Milk. Photo by Omar Waheed.

Bigger, better and with even more support than before, the Big Gay Market came back for its second round in Cottage Grove this past Sunday.

The Big Gay Market was founded by Ollie DiPietro and Ashley Shaw to support and uplift small queer-owned businesses in Wisconsin. The market is held at Wisconsin Rugby, 448 Clark St., once per season, each time with improvements from the last. The previous Big Gay Market was held this past spring. The organizers took the top prize at the Arts Business Competition at UW-Madison earlier this year.

This time compared to last, the turnout was drastically higher and the number of vendors doubled from 25 to 50. DiPietro estimated that over 650 came out to attend this time after having to buy more face masks for attendees during the market. DiPietro had assumed that 650 masks would have been more than enough and was pleasantly surprised to find they needed to leave to purchase more.

The market’s vendors provide hand-crafted goods from exclusively queer owned small businesses. Attendees were able to find just about anything from art, rugs, eggs, jewelry, clothes, jam and many other things. Regardless of what you can find, the most important part, and the parting words from vendors and attendees throughout the day, was how it creates a safe and celebratory space for the LGBTQIA+ community.

“Honestly, it went better than Ashley or I probably could have ever imagined it going. I just feel really well supported, honestly, in the community. I did hear a lot of feedback that people are just happy to see so many queer people.” DiPietro said. “It really just made my little heart warm, and seeing all the queers together and all the allies. It just made me really happy. It made me really happy to be living in Madison.”

DiPietro notes that while there are a lot of queer spaces and people in Madison, there are very few with such a large gathering outside of Pride Month. Creating a space year-round is one of the reasons why DiPietro and Shaw started the market — the support from the community is just a bonus.

Just as the founders were excited to be in an accepting space with broad support, vendors and attendees were too. Vince Wartenweiler, a vendor who does tarot readings at his business Pharmastrology, was happy to be a part of a space where his services are valued and met with less skepticism than at other non-queer markets.

“I love the clientele that it attracts. I would say there are so many loud and proud people here which is super important. You don’t get that in every market. You don’t get that in every space in this world,” Wartenweiler said. “I feel like there’s a deeper sense of trust as well, knowing that I may have some shared identity with people, that there may be a shared background or shared experiences that we’ve had as queer people.”

Wartenweiler is a pharmacist by trade and a tarot reader and astrologist by passion. He is relatively new to being a vendor but appreciates the spaces he has been offered at various markets. He feels like the clientele at the Big Gay Market is easier for him to reach and relate to than other markets.

Photo by Omar Waheed.

Attendees Joe and Eric Czech-Swanson, who found out about the Big Gay Market on Facebook, were very excited for the space and picked up a few different things from vendors throughout the day. Like many, the couple were excited to be at a queer dedicated space.

“Everything here is really cool. Everything’s been really cool. I got a new tote bag and a fancy necklace from the vendor over there. But it’s also just fun to be surrounded by queer people,” Eric said.

The Big Gay Market wrapped up at 4:00 pm, when DiPietro and Shaw were able to finally decompress from running both their own stands and the market. One of the largest goals, past the overall mission, was to gauge if they should hold a larger, separate version of the market next summer. The turnout and support pointed the duo for yes.

The next Big Gay Market will be held in the Fall.