The morning after Black Friday felt like a “take back” of sorts in Asbury. Though Small Business Saturday has existed for a couple years, this year was the first time you sensed that the City by the Sea was the place to support everything local. Tucked away like a hidden gem, Asbury Fresh was holding their first Winter Pop-up in the old Russo Music space on Cookman Ave. As many as 45 vendors squeezed in the abandoned building, under white Christmas lights with the sound of live rock music trumpeting down the streets.

Asbury Fresh has become somewhat of an institution. Visitors traveling from all over the country have come back now for two summers looking to purchase from local vendors. Spear-heading the success of this artisan market is co-organizers Bret Morgan and Michelle Zarella.. Both saw the market grow, with the number of vendors almost doubling in its second season. The winter pop-up was a result of the eagerness of the vendors, and that eagerness was apparent in participants as well.

“What really surprised me about the event was the amount of foot traffic., ” said Zarella. “We expected a nice turnout, but the continuous flow of people throughout the entire day was really awesome. People were stoked on all of our vendors and the live music.”

It can be tough for businesses in the winter months, but Morgan – who is also the co-founder of downtown Asbury’s Bands on a Budget – wanted to continue to be present.

“When Michelle and I started organizing Asbury Fresh last spring, one of the most important things we decided to focus on was the notion of building a community, ” said Morgan

Morgan also explained that a family was created by new forms of communication, contradictory to the classic way of selling face-to-face.. “We’ve worked hard to leverage platforms such as our internal “Asbury Fresh Family” Facebook group, to keep an open line of communication via email, and to featuring our amazing variety of vendors across all of our social media properties. One of the things I really enjoyed this past summer was the cross pollination that began to occur with many of the vendors, and I feel like a lot of new relationships and friendships were born. I think that’s something special and distinctly unique to what we are doing.”

Last year, Asbury Fresh was voted “One of The Best” by an Asbury Park Press reader’s poll. Both Morgan and Zarella were really excited to have won and were glad that they were recognized.

bretfresh2Asbury Fresh organizers Michelle Zarella and Bret Morgan.  Photos by Nick Kiefer.  

“It was cool to get some recognition from the community for the market, ” said Zarella. “The most important aspect of Asbury Fresh is the community feel. I think Asbury Fresh resonated with people this past summer because they felt like the market was a place they could go to be social and support the community without going to a bar.”

The vendors, who range from selling handcrafted jewelry, to winter apparel, to baked goods had so much to offer. Zarella calls them a cast of characters, “in the best way possible.”

“It was always a good time hanging on Sundays with Marianne and Sam, who sell vintage silver jewelry, and Queen Lorene and her ridiculously delicious jams, ” said Zarella who also had fan favorites guacamole-making Guacadile Rock, Sea Isle City’s hot sauce, Hank Sauce and Whoopie Pie bakers That Sounds Delicious keep coming back.

Seven Arrows Farm, a working farm, CSA and yoga retreat on the Navesink river in Middletown made its vendor debut at the Winter Pop-up.

“It was also really great having Seven Arrows on board for the pop up and we look forward to having them back again.” said Zarella. “It has been really important to us to get more farms and produce vendors signed up. My dream would be to get some people in who make their own cheeses and grass fed, organic meats.”

Morgan has a favorite vendor, though it may be a little bit biased. His girlfriend’s custom jewelry company Sage & Indie.

“When we started Asbury Fresh back in 2012, we had recently met and somehow I lured her into selling at the market as a way to get her to come hang out with me regularly.”

So what does Asbury Fresh hold for 2014? Morgan says they have been kicking around a few ideas, bringing more live music and focusing more on produce vendors.

“There are dozens are farms, CSAs, farm stands, and other farming operations all operating right here in Monmouth & Ocean Counties and I’d like to bring more of them on board.”

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