By Stefanie Jackson – The Eastern Shore is known for its close-knit communities, with neighbors helping neighbors, and that same spirit pervaded the small-business community when the Pearl Market, near the town of Cape Charles, opened last Saturday, June 20.
Pearl Market isn’t a farmer’s market, general store, restaurant, bar, or art gallery; rather, it aspires to be a little bit of everything the Shore has to offer in one location off Route 13, where the back roads begin.
The building is a former potato grader shed on 2.5 acres of farm land on Latimer Siding Road in lower Northampton County, less than two miles from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
Pearl Market’s co-owners, Eyre Baldwin and Taylor Custis, oversaw its development and the addition of artistic touches that lend an element of class to the casual outdoor setting.
It would be easy for the market to go unnoticed to passers-by if it weren’t for the large, colorful mural on the front, painted by Igor Custom Signs and 1500 Studios, both of Virginia Beach, Va.
On the left are the words “Pearl Market” above an abundance of fresh produce and seafood, from corn and watermelon to crabs and clams; on the right is a ship sailing, seagulls soaring, and a woman sparingly clothed in white and wearing watermen’s boots, an image reminiscent of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.
Inside the shed, vendor tables spread out across the simple concrete floor and display a variety of offerings from fresh local produce and seafood to art and photography.
The space leads into the dining area and kitchen, which will be finished soon and feature a raw bar and beer on tap, said Khyber Rooney, Baldwin’s assistant who is managing Pearl Market along with Jenna Rodriguez, of Seafield Farm in Cape Charles.
It was Rodriguez who introduced the “art and farm” vibe to Pearl Market.
In addition to the interior dining area, picnic tables will be added outside, Rooney said.
More art is coming, too. Doors will be wrapped with advertising, a painted Coca-Cola sign will be added to the front of the building, and another Pearl Market sign will hang in the dining area over a stage, where live music will be performed.
Rooney, who has a finance degree from Old Dominion University, said Pearl Market’s target customers are residents of Cape Charles and greater Northampton County, Virginia Beach, and the 3.4 million travelers who pass by on Route 13 every summer.
In addition to the food, art, and artisan goods offered at the market, supplies like ice and fire logs will be sold to draw in campers and other travelers, Rooney said.
She’s also planning to add a concrete sidewalk and bicycle tire pump outside for users of the Southern Tip Bike and Hike Trail, which passes directly in front of the market.
She envisions Pearl Market “kind of like your Shore Wegmans” – referring to a chain that began as a fruit and vegetable market and became, according to a CNN Money report, “America’s favorite grocery store,” which features organic produce and a hot food bar.
But what sets Pearl Market apart from a grocery store is that it doesn’t just offer a variety of goods and services, it’s an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to come together and interact with potential buyers whom they might not meet otherwise.
Pearl Market is an example of what longtime business owner Kristin Willis calls “cooperative marketing.” Willis, the founder and former owner of the Machipongo Trading Co., was at the Pearl’s first pop-up market to sell coffee from her current business, Eastern Shore Coastal Roasting.
As a business owner who deals primarily in selling her products wholesale, Willis is familiar with the concept of cooperative marketing. For example, Brown Dog Ice Cream in Cape Charles uses Willis’ coffee in its espresso ice cream.
She enjoys roasting the coffee but has no plans to open a coffee shop. Instead, “we direct people to local businesses,” she said.
The market is also an opportunity for new and growing businesses like Love & Canna, run by sisters Rachel and Rebecca Wivell, of Cheriton, who sell CBD oil and products and recently began growing their own hemp.
Another vendor at Pearl Market’s opening was Rachel Stevens, a photographer who owns and operates Bayside Studios. Her photography work includes portraits, lifestyle photos, an occasional wedding, and watermen and the working waterfront.
Stevens also supports the cooperative marketing concept and loves using her photography skills to help other businesses build an online presence, she said.
Her involvement in the project on Latimer Siding Road is twofold. She plans to participate in future Pearl Market pop-ups and also has a photography studio in one of the two outbuildings on the 2.5-acre property.
Recognizing the need for more affordable housing on the Eastern Shore, Pearl Market’s owners began renovating the buildings to become low-cost apartments. Each building will be divided into two rental units for a total of three apartments plus the studio. The two buildings are nicknamed “Bayside” and “Seaside,” Rooney said.
Her aim is for Pearl Market to open every weekend this summer and maintain the momentum of the first Saturday pop-up event that attracted hundreds of people.
Pearl Market is located at 4198 Latimer Siding Road, Cape Charles. For more information, contact Khyber Rooney at [email protected] or visit https://www.loc8nearme.com/virginia/cape-charles/pearl-market/5831249/
This story has been updated to include the link to the Pearl Market website.