Communities across the nation are witnessing the rebirth of their urban cores—main streets have come alive once again with busy sidewalks, art installations and unique new businesses that attract customers who believe commerce can be as much purposeful as it is practical. It’s a trend being pioneered by small business owners and local entrepreneurs, including Smith Market owner Luciann Gould.
Smith Market, the winner of The Community Foundation’s 2016 downtown entrepreneurship challenge, officially opened its doors in 2018. Located at 412 Main Street in Utica, the natural food store and local market has transformed the former D.B. Smith & Co. building with a fresh new feel, while preserving many of the structural elements that characterize the building’s industrial downtown presence.
Gould was inspired by the growing demand for a natural food store and year-round local market in the downtown community. Her idea for Smith Market was born of out of the Oneida County Public Market’s success in Bagg’s Square.
“At that point, Bagg’s Square became a destination for like-minded people and community-oriented businesses,” said Gould. “My heart was set on this location. It was exciting to see all the local farmers and community members coming together at the public market.”
Gould was encouraged to participate in The Community Foundation’s entrepreneurship challenge, where she developed Smith Market’s business plan with the help of coaching and mentoring through Mohawk Valley Community College’s thINCubator programming alongside other aspiring entrepreneurs. Taking her idea through to the challenge finals, Gould pitched her plan for Smith Market, winning $25,000 to launch the business.
“Entrepreneurs like Luciann are an inspiration because they’ve found a way to integrate their personal passions into their careers,” said Alicia Dicks, president/CEO of The Community Foundation. “Local entrepreneurs are a growing part of a grassroots economic development resurgence in our region, and we’re thrilled that Smith Market is open in Downtown Utica, adding to the vibrancy and success of the city’s urban center.”
Bringing Gould’s vision for Smith Market to Bagg’s Square wasn’t a quick or easy endeavor. From design and construction, to acquiring inventory and local partners, Gould stayed determined.
“The Community Foundation has been an incredible resource throughout the start-up process,” she said. “Their support and guidance helped me navigate this journey as an entrepreneur, facilitating the connections I needed to keep the business on track and moving forward. I consider The Community Foundation’s partnership a significant part of why I’m here today and Smith Market’s doors are open.”
Encouragement from community members and a network of entrepreneurs helped open doors for Smith Market. Gould has even partnered with former challenge participants who’ve become vendors, selling their products at the market. Blair Bellamy, a two-time challenge contestant who runs his own aquaponic farming business, has joined Smith Market as market manager.
Smith Market offers a one-stop shopping experience for people living and working in Downtown Utica, a convenient marketplace for local products and unique gifts that showcase regional farmers, makers and growers.
“Our goal is to offer healthier options,” said Gould. “Overall, healthier people are happier people. At Smith Market, we believe that everyone should know where their food comes from and what is in the products they consume and use.”
Everything in Smith Market is meticulously curated, from the neatly arranged products and displays to the featured local artwork. Smith Market works with more than 50 local suppliers to carry fresh produce, meats, cheeses and whole foods, making sure every product is healthy and produced with organic practices. The market offers an assortment of grab-and-go items, including sandwiches, salads and soups, with gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian and healthy meat options, as well as a café bar with artisan-roasted coffee, cold-press juices, fresh smoothies and kombucha.
Gould takes pride in Smith Market’s community-based approach, working to become a model for other local sustainable food markets.
“It’s incredibly exciting to witness a culture of entrepreneurship developing in our downtowns,” said Gould. “I’m here because I’m doing what I love and have committed fully to pursuing my passion. It’s truly inspiring to meet others that share that same kind of passion. Together, we’re part of a local movement that’s developing a new way of thinking about how to make positive changes now and for our future.”
Gould hopes to encourage aspiring entrepreneurs and new businesses to consider a downtown location.
“It’s that kind of ambition that will transform the dynamics in this city. It’s the right time for entrepreneurship in Utica, New York—this is the place to make it happen.”