Once an open-air market and gathering place, Lincoln’s Historic Haymarket district is known for blending the old with the new. For years the area has been a bustling hot spot for hidden gem boutiques and restaurants, but last March it suddenly resembled a ghost town. Since then, its patrons have made a gradual return with the support of the network of local businesses in the area. Three such businesses, Wax Buffalo, The Rabbit Hole Bakery, and The TADA Theatre, each brought their own creative approach to safely welcoming back the community.
Alicia Reisinger, owner of clean soy candle business Wax Buffalo, grew up taking trips to the Haymarket with her Grandmother. In 2014 she founded Wax Buffalo, and since has sold her candles in over 200+ small boutiques across the nation and developed a partnership with Whole Foods. Although their minimalist “X” design has gained nationwide recognition, her team is dedicated to tending to their hometown roots by reinvesting into the Haymarket.
“When I first started Wax Buffalo, there were some really cool artisanal businesses happening in some of the bigger cities like Chicago, LA and New York,” says Reisinger. “I think it was my goal to prove there are some really beautiful makers and small businesses here in the Midwest, too. We’re grinders, you know, we work hard, we think big. So I think each time a candle pops up in a different big city and is embraced, it’s really a win for all of us.”
Being nested in the community allowed Wax Buffalo to remain standing through the events of the past year. “Being local, we got a lot of notes from people that were just like, I want you to still be around when this is over so I’m spending my money with you right now,” Reisinger says, adding, “And then we’d cry.”
She notes that it’s not uncommon for Haymarket businesses to keep business cards leading you to other boutiques and restaurants in the area; a sort of scavenger hunt meant to build shopper loyalty within the district. She comments that the past year has strengthened this support amongst local businesses. “I think we’re just watching out for each other differently than we probably would before all this happened,” she reflects. “and I kind of think it’s not going to change. I think once that [support] is established and we start taking care of each other, that will only grow.”
Reisinger credits The Downtown Association for keeping all of the business owners connected and informed, making sure they had information about various loans if they needed help.
For Amanda Fuchser, co-owner and pastry chef of The Rabbit Hole Bakery, and her business partner, Beau Ballard, their current Haymarket location was a critical factor in the vision for an Alice in Wonderland-themed bakery. Fuchser came up with the themed idea during culinary school, but the basement space they found at the corner of 8th and Q in 2016 was the missing piece in creating an experience just like falling down a rabbit hole. In this rabbit hole, there are daily pastries, cocktails and Fuchser’s favorite: custom ordered cakes.
Just like Reisinger, Fuchser notes that the camaraderie between Haymarket businesses was strengthened through the challenges of the pandemic. “During the last year we have started featuring other businesses on our social media to help promote them and also create a type of community and partnership between us.” says Fuchser. “It helps us get to know them and what they do and gives us an opportunity to highlight them for the amazing things they do.”
Social media also played a significant role in getting the word out about The Rabbit Hole. “With some of the food pages on Facebook for take-out during the Pandemic, it helped share our name across a bigger community.” says Fuchser. “As the stages of the pandemic progressed we became so incredibly thankful for the Lincoln community and their love for small businesses. We would absolutely not be here without them.”
The TADA Theatre’s relationship with the Haymarket began 21 years ago. TADA Productions, Inc., the parent company of the theatre, originally shared a space with six other performance groups above the Haymarket location of The Mill Coffee & Tea for 10 years. About 11 years ago, it grew out of the space and moved into its current residence in the Creamery Building.
“Patrons knew to look for TADA in the Haymarket, so we wanted to stay here, we just needed to figure out where,” says Robert D. Rook, TADA’s managing artistic director. “The other businesses who benefit from having TADA in the Haymarket, such as restaurants and shops that patrons attend before and after the show, also encouraged us to remain there.”
As a nonprofit place of live entertainment run by a board of directors, The TADA Theatre’s experience with COVID-19 regulations differed from the shops and restaurants of the Haymarket.
“The challenges [of the pandemic] were unlike anything I have faced with producing and directing theatre anywhere over the past 31 years in this business,” Rook says. “The health departments all over the U.S. were trying to figure out what was safe to do and what was not safe, and during that time entertainment venues remained in limbo burning cash on rent and overhead while unable to do shows.” Rook says that TADA was left with two choices: “curl up and close, or to buckle down and recreate the theatre and begin to search for other funding and ways to perform and connect with our audience.” They chose the latter.
Rook’s first course of action was to call upon TADA alumni across the United States to each prepare a video of a song. Using these videos, he hosted the series “TADA’s Talent Tonight,” featuring over 70 volunteer performers over the course of several weeks. The series let patrons know that TADA was still around while giving performers a musical outlet, many of whom had been on Broadway tours that were now on hold.
Last year, they partnered with the Mill at Telegraph for a sold-out outdoor show on the Telegraph stage called “TADAstock.” Later, one of their actors, Sam Hartley, performed a one man show at the Mill at Telegraph titled “Live From Lincoln’s Center.”
The TADA Theatre reopened in January with a month of stand-up comedy on their new showcase stage. In February they opened their first mainstage musical in a year, “Nunsense,” but not without thorough brainstorming and planning. TADA successfully fundraised for an air purification system like those used in hospitals, required weekly COVID tests for performers, and wore masks during rehearsals. Their new season for 2021 is aptly named “Reconnecting: Safely, Wisely and Enthusiastically.”
Keeping a safe, wise, and enthusiastic outlook seems to be an appropriate theme for all local businesses and venues during this time. In some ways, they have never completely disconnected from their patrons and their fellow community members.