Alums’ business venture combines support for the arts and local development

Currents Fall 2017 Cover
Fall 2017

On the ground level of a one million square-foot mixed-used facility in the heart of Pennsylvania’s capital city, over 50 local artists, craftsmen, and vendors set up shop for the popular HBG Flea, a curated pop-up market founded by Mary Imgrund (’15) and Meghan Jones (’16), graduates of the English program at Penn State Harrisburg. The flea takes place on the first Saturday of the month in Harrisburg, attracting hundreds of shoppers to Strawberry Square, the retail complex that hosted the winter markets this year.

After taking the summer of 2015 to lay the foundation for their venture, Imgrund and Jones held the first flea in November that same year at the Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center (HMAC). The initial goal was to feature 25 vendors, Imgrund said, but they ended up accepting 40.

“We didn’t realize how much interest there was for something like this,” shesaid, “which means we were tapping into something that people wanted.”

As interest increased, Imgrund and Jones needed to expand their space, settling on Strawberry Square in downtown Harrisburg. The HBG Flea now averages 50 to 60 vendors and roughly 1,500 shoppers per market with a total of 18 events per year. What sets them apart and encourages constant growth, Imgrund said, is their dedication to local artists and their skills in branding and advertising.

“Everything has our ideology of helping vendors make a living, encouraging people to enter into the arts, and encouraging shoppers to support their neighbors and shop locally,” she said. “Those are things that we’re really passionate about, that we really believe in.”

According to Imgrund, the pair taught themselves the marketing skills needed to be successful in their endeavor, a feat made possible by their education in humanities and the abundance of support they received from their professors at Penn State Harrisburg.

“Because we started out in the humanities, [marketing] flows really well,” she said.
“When you’re a writer or when you study literature, you understand people. You know that whatever makes a good story
is compelling, whether it’s a best-selling novel or a really great brand name. There’s a lot of overlap there.”

The two mastered using social media as a marketing platform, earning over 75,000 mentions on Instagram with their hashtag “#hbgflea.” Imgrund’s writing and advertising expertise also landed her an internship with Revolution Messaging, the company responsible for Bernie Sanders’ digital operations during his political campaign.

Imgrund extols the value of a humanities background, crediting her success in part to her ability to think critically. “Especially as things become more automated,” she said, “a critical thinker, someone who can look at things from outside the box, is becoming more rare and more valuable.”

The other key to their success, according to Jen Hirt, assistant professor of creative writing and English composition, is the pair’s innate vision and ambition.

“I knew Mary and Meghan through classes ranging from general education to advanced writing to practicums,” she said. “They each had an idea of what they wanted to do, and they did not let doubt curtail their plans. That’s not something I can teach, but I can recognize it and nurture it.”

Exploring elements of curiosity and teaching students to question the world around them, Hirt said, is not only her goal in the classroom but also the goal of the humanities in general. Imgrund and Jones’ success story is one of many that has been influenced by an education at Penn State Harrisburg.  

“Our students get everything they need for careers just by engaging in our courses in literature, writing, and the wide spectrum of the whole humanities,” she said. “If you can appreciate a novel or a painting or a classic movie, you can transfer those skills to appreciating the motives of a customer, the needs of an organization, or an opportunity to innovate while building on the past.”

HBG Flea will be in Strawberry Square on the first Saturday of each month this winter. Imgrund and Jones also have plans to add new aspects to the market involving many of the tenants of Strawberry Square.

Aside from the HBG Flea, Imgrund is currently studying for her master’s of arts in political communication at American University in
Washington, D.C. and Jones is currently studying for her certification in secondary education: English at Penn State Harrisburg.