A Modest Debate: The Night Market vs. Wal-Mart

A Modest Debate: The Night Market vs. Wal-Mart

By Brian S. Powers

The inaugural 2013 Night Market.

After spending all week mining kittens at the local feline mine, your shekels are far too eager to jump out of your hands into another’s pocket, and the opportunities for this are limitless.

To quote Charles Dickens and his historical wishy-washiness, it is both the best of times and the worst for the modern American consumer.

Where’s your best opportunity for brick-and-mortar consumption? We propose a modest debate: Wal-Mart vs Night Market.

Wal-Mart, Inc., was started in 1962 in Arkansas by Sam Walton, hoping to earn enough money to one day leave Arkansas. According to its website, Wal-Mart now offers low, low wages prices, in 27 different countries, all of them somehow signatories to the Geneva Convention.

By contrast, the Night Market – a new Lexington tradition – has been taking place in a semi-regular fashion for about a year-ish. Put on by the North Limestone Community Development Corporation (or NoLi CDC, if you’re nasty), on the first Friday of every month, this event brings together vendors, artists and other Lexington cultural endeavors along with the fans who love them.

The Venue

Wal-Mart has for years prided itself on its internal aesthetic – a mix of unfinished aircraft hangar and DMV waiting room, painted in colors no one in their right mind would inflict on a household dwelling. The internal flow of the store is itself a marvel of psychological manipulation – a Kafka-esque design that places toilet paper and anti-diarrheal medication on opposite ends of a six-square mile store (author’s estimation). The visitor is greeted by monolithic inventory control sensors that scan all incoming and outgoing visitors for the faintest whiff of impropriety, although if you set them off accidentally, they sometimes give you a free two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew if it’s handy, so that’s nice.

The Night Market, by contrast, cares not for roofs. It happily exists under a string of incandescent lights that winds from one end of the street to the other, back and forth between trees and telephone poles. Lexington’s makeshift Portabello Road (if you’ve seen “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,”)  is bookended by railroad tracks on one side and an army-surplus store on the other, with an adjacent thrift store that would make Macklemore and Ryan Lewis swoon with happiness. No free Mountain Dew.

The winner: The Night Market

This article also appears on page 18 of the August 7, 2014 print issue of Ace.
This article also appears on page 18 of the August 7, 2014 print issue of Ace.

Retail Offerings

Wal-Mart is best known for providing nearly every sundry known to man under one roof, accessible 24/7. If Wal-Mart doesn’t have it, you likely don’t need it and you should feel bad for wanting it in the first place. Unless it’s a Ricky Skaggs album; you can never have too many of those.

But eclecticism abounds at the Night Market.

Ever wanted a wood-burned skateboard?

Jon Imeson will make you one On. The. Spot.

Need Anthony Davis-as-Frida Kahlo as a living room conversation piece? Jerielle Hanlon has got you covered. One can purchase locally-created granola at one end of the Night Market and snag a paper doll cutout project of a shark attack victim at the other. Fox House Vintage is on hand to make sure your apparel is appropriately stylish, while perennial local favorite Kentucky for Kentucky is always on-hand to sell shirts one should wear to a Sturgill Simpson concert (as opposed to, say, church). Food trucks at the event appear to be multiplying, so prepare for the gastronomic onslaught (the author has no idea about the reproductive cycle of food trucks and assumes they reproduce sexually, like rabbits).

The winner: you be the judge. The Night Market has mirrored jewelry and a dude who draws really detailed and colorful pictures of dinosaurs, but of the two, only Wal-Mart sells Ale 8 by the six pack and neon orange spray paint and a pregnancy test at 2 a.m.


The real entertainment value at one’s local Wal-Mart is to be found in the local wildlife that comes through its doors. Other than that, watching the endless loop of promotional video splayed across all thirty of the televisions in the electronics section is about it for entertainment. No live music? Get with the program, Wal-Mart.

The latest Night Market saw performances from two local bands – Palisades and Attempt, both tearing it up in grand style and trying their hardest not to make Shaft jokes while performing on a loading platform up above the crowd (seriously, they were right under “shaft way,” and not a single word). People-watching at the Night Market is also visually luscious (thanks Lexington Tattoo Project!).

The winner: The Night Market, partly because it was also amusing to watch Richard Young of NoLi CDC climbing a rickety scaffold to try and take a shot of the crowd.

Overall Winner

The Night Market easily takes the prize, combining eclecticism, local retail, and the burgeoning Lexington cultural scene into one big block party of deliciousness. To really compete with Wal-Mart, however, it will need one crucial addition: greeters.

This article also appears on page 18 of the August 7, 2014 print issue of Ace.

Subscribe to the Ace e-dition for Lexington news, arts, culture, and entertainment, delivered to your inbox every Thursday morning.