The face behind the Whitewater City Market

Kristine Zeballos serves community through market

Olivia Storey, Assistant News Editor

The Whitewater City Market has been a city tradition for years. Every Tuesday, citizens of Whitewater get up and head to the market for an assortment of items.

Everyone in town knows about the market, but few know about the woman who helps keep it running and successful.

Meet Kristine Zaballos, a writer and editor for the university marketing and communications department. After helping found the organization Downtown Whitewater, Inc, she was asked to begin a farmer’s market to help bring more people into the downtown Whitewater area.

“[The organization] wasn’t sure if a city the size of Whitewater could support a second market, so we decided to try it as a pop-up starting in mid-July,” Zaballos said. “We ended up with a Tuesday evening because our growers who had Saturday markets said that was the perfect evening to have a market so they could pick produce a second time during the week. We figured we’d have eight or so vendors. The first week we had 15, and by week five we had 45 vendors and more than 800 market-goers each week. It was pretty exhilarating.”

Over the next four years, Zaballos continued as a co-manager while the market grew to hosting 100 vendors, moving their location and then settling in to about 45-60 vendors.

Being a co-manager to such a big event is something that Zaballos cherishes.

“We love that people from the community and the university — students, faculty, staff — organically mix at the market. We love that it’s become a third place for people.,” she said. “It’s always been something we tweak every week, thinking about what worked, what didn’t, and how we can make it a better experience for the market-goer. Now that the market runs year-round, with the indoor market running Saturday mornings November through April at the public library, we have even more opportunities to better understand what people want.”

Zaballos discussed ways the market can help bring students off campus and into the downtown world.

“We look for and welcome campus connections, like bringing international students to the market to do a scavenger hunt and creating student-specific promotions,” she said. “And we are especially proud that we’ve offered dozens of free spots to nonprofit organizations to bring their efforts to the market. We’ve had many university students as volunteers and interns. Seeing vendors and market-goers enjoy and be delighted by the market week in, week out for more than 150 markets has been a true joy.”

Although Zaballos has a passion for the market and the people who attend, there can be some challenges that come with an event of this size.

“The biggest challenge with the market has been keeping the inclusive, welcoming feel going. The key is with the vendors and how they treat one another — and the market-goers,” she said. “What kills a market is generally infighting among the vendors. There are definitely vendors who are fan favorites, but if they cause problems with other vendors it’s a huge problem.”

Due to some concern, some vendors have been let go just to keep the environment a strong one.

“We’ve had to let a few vendors go over the years who were market-goer favorites but didn’t treat other vendors well and created problems. You have to trust that the whole of the market is more important than any one vendor or manager or anyone. Trusting that was the right decision, even when people complained, was really hard. But it was the right thing in the end.”

Overall, being a large part of the team who keeps the market up and running has been a great experience for Zaballos.

“I’d say the person I am has shaped the market (among many other people and other factors). The person I am as a community member, involved in the Plan Commission and Downtown Whitewater and Whitewater Community Foundation, and as a parent, makes me intensely aware of what are community assets are and what the community needs,” she said. “Obviously we need a source of local groceries since we lost the local grocery store, which makes us redouble our efforts to bring local eggs, produce, honey and bread to the community through the market. And I know so many people in the community through my role at the university, the schools and such, I am constantly thinking about what experience people want. I want the market to feel like my home: an open door, where everyone is welcome.”

Zaballos is appreciative of the efforts the Whitewater community has helped put into the market, and how the success wouldn’t have been possible without them.

“The connections between the university and the market are many. I wouldn’t have been able to help co-found the market if I hadn’t been working at the university and my boss hadn’t enthusiastically supported ample work time, year in and year out, to make it happen. And there are so any vendors who have a university connection, either as faculty, staff, or alumni.”

Thanks to community members  the market has become a place for all to gather, shop and meet others. Join your community Tuesday afternoons at 4 pm in downtown Whitewater.