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Fort Collins residents and artisans at The French Nest Open-Air Market

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Photo credit: Lawrence Lam


For a few hours of each month, Civic Center Park in Old Town is converted into an open-air market – reminiscent of those found across Europe.

The French Nest Open-Air Market, held June 21, played host to over 45 unique vendors from across the Front Range selling all varieties of goods: character ridden antiques, delectable pastries and breads and hand-made artisan crafts.

“It’s in the flavor of the European market, it’s not just about food or a flea market,” said Jill Stilwell, co-owner of the French Nest Open-Air Market. “It’s more antique. You can buy things for your home and get one of a kind things you might not find at other places.”

The market has been in place for three years, but Sitwell and her three sisters took over the event this year. This is their second market, and for them, the vendors are what makes it unique.

One vendor, Cathy Ulrich, came to the market with the intentions of selling her photography.

She takes pictures of nature and landscapes. To create her work she uses a process called High Dynamic Range Imaging, which takes three shots: one normally, one underexposed and one overexposed. Then she stitches the three photos together and prints them on aluminum plates.

“This process creates an effect that in some ways is closer to what our eyes are able to see, and in some ways also looks like a painting,” Ulrich states on her website.

Also found in Ulrich’s tent was her sister, Becky Rathel, and her jewelry. Rathel makes her necklaces and bracelets with threads similar to fishing line, sterling silver and hammered aluminum.

Tents like Ulrich’s, offering eye-appealing art with friendly service, are what draw many passersbys to stop in. Scott Johnson, a Front Range graduate awaiting acceptance to Colorado State University, and Andreas Bjorkman, CSU political science senior, were among those who visited out on a whim.


“We were just out walking the dog and we saw a sign and decided to stop in,” Johnson said.

On arrival, the two found a plethora of what seemed to be old books, but many of them were actually printed in the 2000s. Johnson and Bjorkman agreed the market contributed to the small town vibe of Fort Collins.

In the heart of the the market, about 15 or 20 tents in, is Jennifer Grant, owner of Ruby Moon. She makes greeting cards and flags modeled behind the philosophy of the Tibetan prayer flags.

“They’re inspired by the Tibetan prayer flags, the tradition of hanging your wishes, blessings, thoughts, prayers, dreams, hopes out on the wind and they’ll be carried out to the countryside,” Grant said.

According to Grant, the best part of what she does is hearing the stories of how her customers use her flags and cards.

“I just had a women buy some for a co-worker,” Grant said. “Her co-worker was battling cancer and everyone in the office created a panel to encourage her.”

While Grant began her business to pursue her passion, others at the market began their businesses because of a call to educate.

Brittany Hogan, of Soulstice Soaps and Skincare, sells handmade soaps, which are supposed to be better for your skin than what is sold at the local grocery store.

“Our idea is to educate about essential oils,” Hogan said. “Our slogan is ‘It’s not just soap, it’s an aromatherapy experience. Our goal is to get people away from store bought soap, which has all kinds of skin stripping chemicals in it, and these are the kinds of soaps that will actually add to your own natural skin balance.”

Soulstice Soaps secret lies in their use of glycerin, which most commercial companies leave out.

“Glycerin is a natural skin emollient, so it will moisturize the skin as opposed to store bought soaps that will strip it of the moisture,” Hogan said.  “Eventually, you get to move away from the excessive lotions that you need in Colorado.”

Other vendors chose to participate in the market because their creations are their hobbies. Dan Swanson came to help his daughter with her tent, Niche. He creates walking sticks for fun and sells them when he can to fund his vacations.

“It’s my hobby, but it’s a way to get people to, hopefully, get out into nature and do things and stay active,” Swanson said. “I was a physical education teacher and a health teacher, so it’s my passion.”

The French Nest Open-Air Market has something for everyone, offering an array of diversity. Bas Meindertsma, a software tester for Otterbox, came to the market with the hopes of finding something for his friends and family.

“We’re going to the Netherlands in two weeks to visit some family, friends and just looking if we had cute gifts that represent Colorado,” Meindertsma said.

The French Nest Open-Air Market will be at the Civic Center Park at 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on July 19, Aug. 16, Sept. 20 and Oct. 18.

The vendors will vary each time, but the enthusiastic atmosphere never will.

Collegian Managing Editor Lawrence Lam can be reached at

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