“If you can’t imagine it, it can’t happen.”
Tacoma event planner Molly Alvarado remembers seeing this Walt Disney quote at a key time in her life, and it stuck. An entrepreneur since age 14, Molly is a one-woman dynamo, bringing new events to Tacoma that make a space for local makers to show their wares and connect the local community.
The North End resident is perhaps best known as the creator of the Tacoma Flea Market in the Proctor District. The seasonal outdoor market has charmed shoppers from near and far for its diverse array of high-quality handmade, artisan and vintage vendors, along with its laid-back charm. A champion of developing small businesses and recognizing local talent, Alvarado has nurtured many of its vendors along the way as a mentor. She has kept the market open to makers of all experience levels, and Molly says she loves working with new vendors still “in the raw,” helping them build their confidence and define their vision. (Check out an in-depth profile of the market here).
After living in diverse parts of the world including China and Canada, Alvarado moved to Tacoma several years ago to attend the University of Washington – Tacoma Arts, Culture, and Communication program with plans to become a university professor. A single mother of three, Molly has always been an extremely hard worker with an entrepreneur’s drive.
One day, she caught sight of the Walt Disney quote, and soon after, by what she calls “a miracle,” she was able to purchase the Blooming Kids consignment boutique. As a mom, she had an interest in stocking high-quality children’s items. She also wanted to encourage local makers to place their products in her store. It was important to her that makers got to keep 100% of their sales, and she found her passion lay in promoting the work of others. Since she featured local talent in her store and was situated near the Proctor Farmer’s Market, the seeds of the Tacoma Flea Market were born. Alvarado sold the store in 2015 and took the leap into launching the flea market.
Inspired by the “quilt-like” outdoor markets of Paris, the Tacoma Flea Market is situated on the grounds and sidewalk in front of Blooming Kids, and creates a natural stroll for those out and about in Proctor. The market runs May to September and is already becoming a local institution after two seasons (you have likely seen the pigeon logo around town).
With her arts background and engaging personality, Molly has quickly built a reputation in Tacoma as a builder of community. Though she has always run her own businesses to support herself, she really thrives on “giving artists and makers an opportunity to be seen by their community. Connecting people with audiences and helping people grow in their work…that is my medium,” she says.
Following a successful market season, Alvarado decided to branch out and host three community holiday events this year, including two brand-new ventures held at historic mansions. Streizelmarkt, named for Germany’s oldest Christmas market, became Tacoma’s first German-themed holiday festival, with literal lines out the door. And Market Nouveau offers an upscale artisan gift fair. The eclectic Tacoma Flea Market Holiday Gift Fair, at Molly’s home, celebrated its second year. All three happenings benefitted the Tacoma Rescue Mission and were replete with the signature touches – a gingerbread house contest, a hot cocoa bar – that make her events memorable. Molly is incredibly hands on with every detail of events, from planning to marketing to twisting wreath branches into shape and painting A-board signs. She dreams big, and then she makes these dreams a reality.
All the events Molly creates are free and open to the public. She often includes live music to promote local talent and offers locally made fare (such as Valhalla coffee). And she always makes a special effort to include youth vendors after her own heart. Her events always have a community give-back component, from a school-supply drive to donations from her own private business to benefit a good cause. Having worked her own way up in life through grit and determination, Molly now revels in the chance to help others along their path. And she does it with style (and remarkable calm for a woman so busy), bringing a unique flavor to the Tacoma cultural scene.
What’s next for Molly? She thrives on cultivating new ideas and harnessing new energy.
“I feel like my work here in Tacoma is just being born,” she says. She is at work staging seasonal events throughout the year, as well as making the growing Tacoma Flea Market a nonprofit organization.
Molly also has a passion for celebrating Tacoma’s historic buildings as event venues. “By hosting new events in our old buildings, their history can be shared and really brought to life,” she notes.
To keep up with Alvarado (if that’s even possible), follow the Tacoma Flea Market Facebook and Instagram pages for announcements about new event launches. And keep an eye out for Molly’s events in our community – she makes sure you’ll want to be first in line.