One of Uptown Manhattans’ largest and most inclusive food festivals is finally returning to Harlem on April 14, and every second Thursday of the month after that— bringing with it more than 50 eclectic food, merchandise, and artistic vendors from all around the city.
The Uptown Night Market, hosted by MASC Hospitality Group in collaboration with the West Harlem Development Corporation, Community Board 9, and other local partners, has returned for its “sequel”, says the founder of Uptown Night Market, Marco Shalma.
“This is where you double down on everything you’ve done in the first year. Last year was coming out of the woodwork and creating something that Harlem has not seen before,” he said.
Following the success of its flagship, the Bronx Night Market, Shalma —who is also the founder of MASC Hospitality Group—and his team set out to find similar communities where they could share their enthusiasm for food, art, and support of local businesses.
The inspiration behind his newest Night Market venture came when one of Shalma’s favorite restaurants, Covo Trattoria & Pizzeria in West Harlem shut down.
“I recall going every Sunday to Covo to taste their signature eggplant dish. When it closed a few years ago, it was one of the many in the area that dissolved,” said Shalma.
Determined to not let another one of Manhattan’s treasured restaurants close its doors, Shalma was quickly connected with Zead Ramadam, Executive Director of the West Harlem Development Corporation, and in a matter of months, Uptown Night Market was holding its first event. However, to Shalma’s dismay, the opening day of the festival coincided with the biggest flood NYC had seen in decades.
“It was just a mess, I’m talking about water to knee high,”he said. “But you know what, we kept a good attitude, we kept smiling, and a month later we came back and the community that had really been waiting for us just showed up.”
Although the Uptown Night Market is staged underneath The Harlem Arches because of their “one-of-a-kind, cinematic presence,” as Shalma described it, there is another, deeper rationale behind his choice of venue.
“When I say Uptown, for us it’s anything above 110th street, and the reason for that is because this is where we feel comfortable. This is where there is a community that looks like us, that speaks like us. It’s more immigrant community, more POC community, you know?”
The MASC Hospitality Group greatly values the Harlem community, they said, making it their mission to prioritize small and microbusinesses, as well as female, LGBTQIA, POC, and immigrant-led businesses, when selecting vendors for the festival.
Not only are the businesses at Uptown Night Market all-inclusive, but so are the attendees.
“It became an event that was celebrated by everybody. And in the middle of Harlem, having the level of community that comes together, which is young and old, all colors of the rainbow, all sexual denominations or what not, and bringing the crowd together. There’s something for everybody, and then some.”
As the Spring season welcomes in the warm weather, Uptown Night Market has no plans to adopt any COVID-19 health regulations, as it is an outdoor event, said Shalma. However, a protocol has been established by the MASC team, which involves the mobilization of on-site testing vehicles, temperature checks and proof of vaccinations— although, according to Shalma, no concrete plans will be made until absolutely necessary.
“We cross our fingers that we don’t have to deal with that,” he joked.
With limited restrictions, this year’s Uptown Night Market promises to be unlike anything Harlem has ever seen. “It’s all about bigger and better,” Shalma remarked.
Unlike the festivals in previous years, this season, The Market will feature culinary vendors that represent different cultures from around the city, as well as merchandise and artistic vendors displaying their creativity and originality through innovative products. Not only that, but each event will showcase a variety of surprise musical performances, ranging from jazz to hip hop, to dj battles.
“We are going to add visual art and illustration to the mix. We are adding more activation— which is more like fun games to have. Turning it into more like a festival,” explained Shalma.
With the Uptown Night Market continuing to grow with each passing year, the more support and opportunities they provide to the businesses and individuals living in the Harlem community— and for Shalma, that’s what the festival is all about.
“For us, the goal is to keep empowering businesses and to see businesses thrive,” he said.
“We are so grateful for this opportunity and we want to just keep giving back to the community that we are participating in.”
To RSVP for the Uptown Night Market, you can purchase a ticket on Eventbrite.