The Mill at Lebanon came alive over the weekend as dozens of people visited the venue for its July Shopping Escape, a two-day event featuring several area vendors.
Organizers planned the event as an alternative to Springtime at the Mill, which traditionally brings in thousands of shoppers and was canceled amid COIVD-19.
“We decided to do a smaller, more intimate version,” co-planner Helene Cash said. “There are sanitizing stations, we have an employee routinely cleaning high-traffic areas and the booths are spread out a little differently, so we took a lot of precautions.”
One of those was a reduction in the number of vendors, which allowed for more floor space between them. Attendees were able to shop for food, clothing and home décor.
“We billed it as our top 25 most sought-after vendors,” Cash said. “These are a lot of the ones people come to other events to see, and they’re within an hour or two of Lebanon. We still wanted to support our business community.”
B.T. Leigh’s Sauces and Rubs, an internationally award-winning barbecue sauce shop from Bowling Green, Kentucky, was among the vendors drawing a crowd over the weekend.
“We haven’t been to the Mill before, but we do a retail at Demeter’s Common,” owner Brian Leigh said. “We started doing shows in Tennessee this year, and we heard this was a good venue. There’s definitely a turnout, but with COVID-19 it’s been hit-and-miss.”
Co-planner Laura Comer said floor traffic was noticeably lower than a typical Mill event because of the combination of COVID-19 concerns and the scaled down vendor lineup.
“We told the vendors that this wasn’t going to be anything like our other events,” she said. “Most people gave us very positive feedback when we announced this on Facebook, but we know several people still just aren’t comfortable yet with going out to shop. We try not to do anything that’s going to make anybody uncomfortable.”
Despite the scaling down, customers continued to stop by throughout the weekend. Most of them wore face masks and observed social distancing, an environment shoppers like Sarah Peace of Lebanon appreciated.
“This is my first time here,” Peace, who heard about the event on Facebook, said. “I was hoping to find some fresh food, baked goods and other items. I also like the consistency of everyone wearing masks, it makes me feel better about coming out to look around.”
Other customers came from out of town, including Cindy Nash from Charlotte, Tennessee. Nash said she enjoyed her time at the Mill enough to come back for another event.
“My daughter-in-law told me about it, and we’ve been here for a few hours,” she said. “I think the clothes shopping is my favorite part, and it’s the kind of thing I like to do.”
Local business owners also used the weekend as an opportunity to network. Christin Muench, who runs County Rose Boutique, said the experience is valuable for those who normally sell online.
“It’s really good to help grow your business,” she said. “Because I’m not a brick-and-mortar, my only options are things like online ads, so pop-up events and festivals are a great opportunity to meet new customers and get some support from other vendors.”
Muench, another first-time vendor at the Mill, said she saw a steady number of customers throughout the weekend and enjoyed the experience.
“People are excited to come out, and I think there’s a sense of restlessness from being inside,” Megan Deere of Nothing Bundt Cakes in Mt. Juliet said. “These are all local vendors, and I love seeing everyone come out to support them.”