In 10 years, The Market Beautiful, formerly the Vintage Whites Market, has established itself as a nationally recognized event in the Flathead Valley and across state lines
Story by Katie Cantrell
Before American Pickers or Fixer Upper, back in the dark ages before Chip and Joanna became household names and introduced the world to the wonders of shiplap and weathered metal, Vanessa Pleasants and Jana Roach were already enamored with vintage goods.
Roach grew up among them. Her grandma owned an antiques store in east Texas and her parents would go junking, taking her along as they dug through old home sites for forgotten treasures. She hated the wasps and the boredom but loved unearthing lost marbles, old bottles and other small treasures, imagining the stories behind them. Pleasants simply liked having unique décor — or, more accurately, disliked having the same stuff as everyone else — and as a young newlywed, she embraced vintage as an affordable way to decorate her home. She enjoyed painting and repurposing her thrift store finds so much that she amassed a surplus and decided to sell it, advertising around her neighborhood with “Shabby Chic Garage Sale!” signs.
“Everybody bought it all,” she remembers. “I was going back up to the house to get more furniture, looking around and going, ‘What else can I part with?’”
So it wasn’t entirely a thunderclap moment when the two women, friends since middle school, found themselves in Pleasants’ Somers home one night in the winter of 2010, tossing around business ideas. They discussed sharing an antique booth at a consignment store but were reluctant to take on the expense and the work required to maintain it. Roach mentioned that she’d recently heard about a woman elsewhere in the country who would periodically just open her garage and sell merchandise out of it. Pleasants had a garage. They each had lots of stuff. And so they launched the Vintage Whites Market, as it was then known, which was a monthly sale from May to September.
“We had no idea if people were going to come,” Roach recalls about their first season. “We had all our little banners, and we used burlap and lace to decorate the garage, back when that was cool. We just kind of mixed everything together. There were no booths; it was like a glorified garage sale.”
“It wasn’t very pretty at all,” Pleasants says, laughing.
I’d have to disagree. I remember standing at the Kalispell Fourth of July parade that summer and seeing their white 1962 Ford truck cruise through the parade, decorated in an irresistible tableau of antique home decor with a huge sign advertising something called the Vintage Whites Market in Somers. My friends and I immediately made plans to check it out, and the market was every bit as gorgeous as the parade display. Instead of random garage sale piles, Pleasants and Roach had arranged and staged every item so we could envision exactly where we would put it and how it would look.
We weren’t the only ones who fell in love with the treasures of that garage. The line of shoppers grew and grew through the summer. By the end of the season, when the fire marshal told them they couldn’t hold another market on the tiny Somers street, Pleasants and Roach already knew what their next step would be.Avintage market is not your grandma’s flea market. It’s a relatively recent creation that turns buying an ancient rusty milk jug (mine’s on my front porch) or someone’s squeaky, worn desk chair (which I’m sitting in as I write) into can’t-miss events. Market owners carefully curate the overall look and feel of the experience by hand-selecting vendors from a pool of applicants. When market day arrives, a well-designed entrance display sets the shopping mood. Pleasants and Roach sometimes hire a woman who also does Anthropologie windows to execute their vision, for example. Trendy food trucks and live music often round out the atmosphere.
In 2010, the Vintage Whites Market had launched its humble beginnings on the leading edge of this new kind of shopping. Also, vintage decor was becoming hugely trendy, due at least in part to the recession. As Pleasants had discovered years before, vintage was not only interesting; it was relatively cheap. The gathering enthusiasm fueled their 2011 expansion to an outdoor meadow in Somers. They held three markets over the summer with a field full of vendors, also bringing in food trucks and live music. Then Roach followed her husband’s work out of the valley, which led to markets in Salt Lake City and the Denver area. By popular demand, they opened a market in Kansas City in 2016. Their growing national visibility networked them with the host of Home Town, an HGTV show about a couple renovating homes in Laurel, Mississippi, which resulted in a semiannual market there as well.
By the end of 2016, they’d put on six markets in five states, with Roach still doing all the marketing and promotion and Pleasants handling the event venues and vendors. That year, 10,000 people walked through the doors of a Vintage Whites Market from Montana to Mississippi.
It was a banner year, but life had changed. Pleasants now had a family of three kids, and Roach had two. The all-consuming nature of major events was getting harder to pull off, especially ones flung across the country. Plus, the vintage market bandwagon had filled to bursting. Denver had a different market every weekend. A pair of women in Oklahoma created a Vintage Market Days franchise, which meant that anyone could buy and run a market the same way you’d open up a Subway. That development prompted Roach and Pleasants to rebrand the Vintage Whites Market as The Market Beautiful in 2017, as shoppers’ social media comments indicated people were mistaking the franchise shows for the Montana original, and the quality of the franchises varied too much to risk their hard-built reputation.
“There have been so many markets that have come and gone, but The Market Beautiful continues to bring in the crowds,” says Annette Hidalgo, a vendor since the days of the Somers garage. “It’s the one that’s had the staying power.”
So despite their success, Roach and Pleasants did the wise thing, the hard thing, and took a long, hard look at their lives and their desires. They have gradually downsized to the Salt Lake City market and two Flathead Valley events: the outdoor summer market and a November Christmas market. Roach started an essential oils-based wellness business, and Pleasants took on some interior design work. With kids in school, three markets a year now feels just right. But they’re not on running autopilot. Both women have a keen eye for emerging trends and are always tweaking the offerings to match. They plan to continue the markets as long as they meet their goal: seeing both vendors and shoppers go home happy.
“I love seeing the people enjoy themselves,” Roach says. “You can walk all through the market and hear conversations going on, snippets of, ‘This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!’ or ‘Did you see what’s in that booth?’ or people convincing other people to go back and buy something. I love that. People are really enjoying this. It’s worth all the work. It’s worth all the time.”
Editor’s Note: The Market Beautiful will be held November 9 at the Flathead County Fairgrounds. Find out more at www.themarketbeautiful.com or socially @themarketbeautiful.
Katie Cantrell writes about local personalities for Flathead Living. She also enjoys sharing unvarnished truths about parenting and traveling with kids. Find her at www.katiecantrellwrites.com or on Facebook and Instagram @katiecantrellwrites.