Big yellow rocking chair returns to front porch of Joplin's Empire Market

Apr. 25—This weekend, a large yellow icon returns to the front porch of the Joplin Empire Market.

The 10-foot, 3-inch rocking chair will again welcome visitors as the market celebrates its sixth anniversary.

The new chair will be celebrated with a ribbon cutting at 4 p.m. Friday at the Market, 931 E. 4th St. The official community reveal will take place during the market's sixth birthday party, starting at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Initially, the chair was a promotional item given to the Downtown Joplin Alliance by a Third Thursday sponsor. Once the DJA acquired the Empire Market building, it was stored there.

Ivy Hagedorn, programming and marketing director for the Alliance, said it took the market a little while to get its signage up once they acquired the former Empire building. The presence of the chair helped draw attention to the new attraction, especially after the Youth Volunteer Corps painted it yellow.

"When we opened the market, we wanted something bright and visible in front of our building to show we are here and something is going on," Hagedorn said. "It's a very cheerful, welcoming thing. That's what a rocking chair helps signify on a front porch."

The chair gets people to stop at the market, and some people take photos it, Hagedorn said. It became a whimsical icon of the market and downtown Joplin.

But over the years the chair started to deteriorate; as a promotional item, it wasn't built to withstand the Missouri weather.

"While it was a very cool chair, it was starting to fall apart and become unsafe," Hagedorn said.

The DJA started raising money to replace the chair during November's Giving Tuesday event. Their goal was $1,500, which was raised over several months.

A donation jar was set up at the market every Saturday. Hagedorn even held her birthday fundraiser for the chair. Big and small donations all added up to help replace the chair, and they reached their goal at the end of January.

The rocking chair has now been rebuilt from scratch. The DJA solicited bids for the project, selecting local carpenter and master craftsman Greg Huff. In addition to the chair, he is also working on the Olivia Apartments restoration project.

Huff built the chair to last as long as possible, Hagedorn said. He was even able to incorporate some salvaged wood from the top floor of the Olivia after its fire. The thick floor joists add a bit of history and high quality wood to the chair. It's now been painted yellow, waterproofed and sealed to withstand weather.

"For people who looked at it every day coming into the office, the stability and difference of it is pretty staggering," Hagedorn said. "It's a beautiful chair now, we're very proud of it. Not only is there a well-made chair there now, it's like an art piece. Also, it's something where our community came together and said it was important enough to them to give us the money for the project."

Hagedorn said they will be incorporating the chair into their marketing, so when people take photos it will stand out. They're also planning some "Meet Me at the Chair" merchandise in the next few months. Now that the chair is here to stay, they want to celebrate it, she said.

The new chair arrives just in time for Empire Market's sixth birthday party this Saturday. Hagedorn said it's a milestone to celebrate as Joplin has never had a farmers market for this many years.

The market will celebrate the birthday with vendors, goats in the garden, birthday cupcake cake from Blissful Bites, new limited-edition merchandise, live music from Vagabond Grove and birthday postcards.

There will also be a greenhouse giveaway at the end of the event, with no purchase necessary to enter. The hoop-style greenhouse was built by the Youth Volunteer Corps and the market's master gardeners. The winner will receive free delivery and setup.

Looking to the future, Hagedorn said the Empire Market is in a period of constant growth of both vendors and customers. This year, they'll be starting construction on a suite of bathrooms, including ones that are ADA accessible, and improvements to their front entrance. They'll also start on their next phase of work on their pavilion area. The improvements are provided through a federal grant.