During the pandemic, Michelle Bullock opened an online store with the goal of supporting small businesses.
Mae Home, which was named after Bullock's great grandma and sold curated items from small businesses, did just that. But it was lonely.
"I found myself supporting small businesses but it was super lonely doing everything online and I was really craving an in-person connection," she says.
She vended at a couple in-person markets, but she was always driving 30 minutes to an hour to the events, hauling her items from the east side to get-togethers that often happened closer to downtown.
"I wanted something closer to where I lived. I thought, if I'm craving this, other people are, too," she says.
From there, the Tanque Verde Market was born, bringing handcrafted jewelry, home items and baked goods to the Forty Niner Country Club, 12000 E. Tanque Verde Road, on the far east side. Bullock hosted her first market in November.
The next Tanque Verde Market is happening 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20, with another on the way in April. The goal is to host the markets twice a year, one in spring and one in fall.
Beyond supporting small businesses, Bullock hopes to build community.
"Local is just really important to me," she says, adding that she had been longing to forge in-person connections with the people behind the products. "So many people make products that everyone should know about."
The Jan. 20 market is set to have a lineup of more than 30 vendors selling ceramics, chocolate, paper goods, skin care, jewelry, sourdough and candles that smell like monsoon. The outdoor event will also feature fire pits and s'mores kits, plus live music by Hatpin Duo.
Because Bullock knows the importance of showing the amount of work that goes into the products that local makers diligently create, the Lew Sorensen Community Center will also be in attendance for onsite pottery-making.
"My goal with this is really not just about shopping but creating a whole experience where you come and want to stay," she says. "The goal is really creating points of connections, not just come and shop and leave."
The first market in November was a success. Some vendors sold out. Attendees asked when the next market would be. East-siders were excited to have an event close to them.
"I grew up in Phoenix and spent a lot of time in downtown Phoenix when it was kind of turning into something cool. I lived down there and met my husband and moved to Tucson," she says.
She lived in Marana, near weekly farmers markets and other developments. When she moved to the east side to be closer to family, she realized there wasn't as much to do.
"The funny thing is, all the people around us, no one wants to drive, no one wants to find parking. So this kind of solves the problem for me and hopefully other people, too," Bullock says.
"I think I understand the community and know what the pain points are because they’re my pain points, too."
Beyond the seasonal Tanque Verde Market, Bullock notices vacant retail spaces on her side of town and hopes to introduce her community to local makers to help create opportunities and foster connections for small businesses.
"It's easy to go to a big store or shop online and I want to make it just as easy for people to shop in person, to shop with local businesses," she says. "The reason why I think small business is so important is because spending your money within the community and supporting the talent that's already here, it's better for the families you're supporting, it's better for the environment because it's closer to home."
"The more in-person connections we can make, the more understanding and sympathetic we can be with each other."