What is goodMRKT? A new artisan shop at Jefferson Pointe elevating socially responsible retailers

As the former Senior Vice President of Store Planning, Design, and Visual Merchandising at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City and the current Vice President of Retail Brand Experience at Vera Bradley’s headquarters in Fort Wayne, Harry Cunningham has witnessed disparities in the retail industry firsthand.

He knows that small, grassroots innovators doing “good” in the world often don’t have the resources of big corporations to manage their brand experiences or adapt to crises, like a pandemic.

That's why Cunningham is leading a team behind a new venture in Fort Wayne called goodMRKT, designed to level the playfield for up-and-coming, socially responsible retailers

Harry Cunningham of Vera Bradley, left, and Joshua Raines of STAR 88.3, right, are on the leadership team behind goodMRKT.

Opening in the former Williams-Sonoma space at Jefferson Pointe Shopping Center on April 16, goodMRKT is a startup that’s part-mentorship program, part-brick-and-mortar retail space for philanthropic businesses in Fort Wayne and beyond to share their products and stories with consumers. The project is global in scope and open to businesses of all kinds, in any stage, which become partners in its concept.

Cunningham says the idea for goodMRKT was initially dreamed up as a “side hustle” among himself and a few other employees at Vera Bradley’s Fort Wayne headquarters. Many of them wanted a way to share their knowledge and experience in the retail industry with rising entrepreneurs, particularly those running socially responsible businesses.

GoodMRKT draws attention to businesses like New Hope Girls, which creates bags to empower girls and women.

Since moving to Fort Wayne from Manhattan about three years ago with his wife and 12-year-old twins, Cunningham has found the Summit City to have a “very strong entrepreneurial spirit." It's home to many mission-minded companies, as well. He cites Vera Bradley itself as an example, harnessing its success in the retail industry to advance breast cancer research through the Vera Bradley Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

In 2019, Vera Bradley also purchased a majority stake in Creative Genius, the owner of Pura Vida, an online retailer of handmade bracelets supporting artisans in Costa Rica. This move got Cunningham’s team talking about ways to help socially responsible brands attain training and exposure.

Even so, Cunningham points out that while goodMRKT is a “lab concept” for the Vera Bradley brand, it’s also operating as a startup itself, utilizing its team’s own time and resources.

“We’ve been very fortunate that the Vera team has supported us in this,” Cunningham says. “But we don’t have a big budget, so we have to figure things out on our own, and that’s been fun for us. When you’re a small business, you start with nothing, and you build it.”

Harry Cunningham of Vera Bradley, left, and Joshua Raines of STAR 88.3, right, are on the leadership team behind goodMRKT.

From the beginning, the vision for goodMRKT has been to work directly with 10-12 small businesses, like Pura Vida, doing “good” in some way. As the team started reaching out to business partners, their list quickly grew to more than 30, ranging from Mudlove handmade pottery and jewelry in Warsaw, Ind., supporting clean water projects to Crave Candles Co. in Birmingham, Ala., using recycled bottles to create small batch soy candles.

One thing all goodMRKT businesses have in common is their commitment to “do good” in the world.

“That definition of ‘good’ is different for everyone involved,” Cunningham says. “It might be a business that helps women find jobs to rise out of sex trafficking or a business that provides blankets for people in homeless shelters or replants a tree for every tree harvested to build a table.”

Crave Candles Co. uses recycled bottles from wine and spirits to create soy candles.

Despite (and partially due to) the COVID-19 pandemic, “sustainable” and “regenerative” businesses are growing in popularity as consumers become more aware of the wide-reaching effects of their spending decisions.

Along with its desire to support conscious consumerism in Fort Wayne, locating the market at Jefferson Pointe is another strategic move for goodMRKT, Cunningham says. The hope is that some of the small businesses featured in the shop will grow enough to open their own brick-and-mortar spaces at the outdoor shopping center.

GoodMRKT is located in the former Williams-Sonoma space at Jefferson Pointe Shopping Center in Fort Wayne.

Over the past two decades since it opened in 2000, Jefferson Pointe has seen declining foot traffic and store closures. In 2019, the lifestyle center’s new developer, Red Development, added a street with a roundabout through the mall's interior to improve foot traffic and access.

GoodMRKT could further increase Jefferson Pointe’s momentum and offer a local-centric, artisan store to the mall’s current collection of chain retailers.

“At Jefferson Pointe, we are dedicated to helping local businesses as they are the backbone of our community here in Fort Wayne,” says RED Development’s Executive Vice President/Leasing & Marketing Manager Mike Kallner. “We are thrilled to welcome goodMRKT and their community of social good-minded brands to the property, allowing Jefferson Pointe to continue supporting forward-thinking entrepreneurs.”

GoodMRKT is located in the former Williams-Sonoma space at Jefferson Pointe Shopping Center in Fort Wayne.

Contributing to positive momentum in Fort Wayne is a big reason Joshua Raines wanted to get involved in goodMRKT, too.

As a Morning Show Host and Director of Outreach at the Christian radio station STAR 88.3, Raines is highly involved in the Fort Wayne community, particularly on matters of faith, diversity, inclusion, equity, and innovation.

While working as a Promotion Strategist for the Global Leadership Summit and Beyond in 2020, he was introduced to Cunningham and the vision for goodMRKT, and he quickly joined the team to make it happen.

“Sometimes, when you meet people trying to do good, it feels like there’s an ulterior agenda, but when I met Harry, it was none of that,” Raines says. “GoodMRKT just wants to help small businesses with amazing missions.”

GoodMRKT seeks to be inclusive to people from all parts of Fort Wayne.

Since the venture is located near downtown and highways in Fort Wayne, Raines hopes it will be a welcoming space for people from all neighborhoods and walks of life.

“We’re asking questions, like: How can we make this inclusive to people in the Southeast or Northeast to come and be part of this market?” Raines says.

In addition to mentorship and a shop, goodMRKT will provide retailers with storytellers trained to share their missions with shoppers. The retail space will be anchored around a coffee bar set up for conversation and events in the future. The coffee itself is local and mission-driven, too, sourced from Utopian in Fort Wayne, which helps former cocaine producers in Columbia convert to specialty coffee production. 

It’s stories like these that goodMRKT wants to share.

“The experience is about more than shopping,” Cunningham says. “It’s about getting this opportunity to discover stories you didn’t know, alongside stories that might be more familiar to you. It’s about a community coming together with people of different backgrounds and passions to learn and celebrate and do good.”

Attend the Grand Opening

GoodMRKT will open at 9 a.m. on Friday, April 16. The day will be capped with an outdoor concert, featuring the local band, Casual Friday, at 5 p.m. in the Jefferson Pointe courtyard.
 

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.
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