Hopes blossom for rebound with better weather, weekly prize drawings, and tie-in with Civil War Day

The Smyrna Farmers Market debuted with much fanfare in 2012, as more than 20 vendors opened booths, and more than 100 customers visited most Saturdays.

However in 2013, attendance by vendors and customers is down significantly, according to market manager Robin Bruner.

"We have 12 vendors today," said Bruner on Saturday. "At the high point this year we were close to 20."

That compares with 23 vendors who started with the farmers market in 2012.

Meanwhile, the number of customers is also down, and trying to figure out what's happening is like the question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Is the number of customers down because the number of vendors is down, or are vendors dropping out because the customers aren't coming?

Bruner said the market is advertising more this year, and has added a Facebook page with more than 400 likes where she keeps people informed about upcoming events at the market.

Most vendors said the weather has been the biggest culprit for the sophomore slump.

"Either it's rainy or so hot and humid, nobody wants to be outside," said Grace Rishell from Willow Rock Gardens, a vendor who sells plants, specializing in hybrid daylilies.

One Saturday in July, the market was canceled because of temperatures in the upper 90s.

However, this past Saturday, the weather was picture perfect, but the crowd was still sparse.

"Last year was great, but it's been slow this year," said Dawn Gland, owner of A to Z Jewelry Design.

Possible changes ahead

While Saturday morning may seem like the time most people are free to visit a farmers market, it's also when many do yard work, go to sports events, or visit the beach, park, or a festival.

"I don't know whether Saturday is too competitive of a day," said Bruner. "At the end of the year, when we are evaluating what to do going forward, we're going to talk about do we need to do a different day, possibly an evening."

While not exactly a farmers market, Spence's Bazaar in Dover has been successful for years with a Tuesday and Friday schedule.

"Dover does their farmers market on a Wednesday afternoon," said Bruner.

For the rest of this season, one change to try to attract more customers is a free drawing every week for a prize basket donated by vendors. Last Saturday the basket was filled with two dozen ears of fresh sweet corn donated by Ficner's Family Farm. Next week, the drawing will be for a delicious selection of homemade scones, courtesy of Bettielou Wagner. The drawing is free, but you have to sign up at the farmers market each Saturday.

Another change will be possibly adding a Saturday to the season, on Oct. 12, because the Civil War Day event planned by the Duck Creek Historical Society should draw a crowd downtown.

A holiday market is also planned for the first Saturday in December from noon to 4 p.m., with a variety of vendors who plan to sell gift items, homemade baked goods, and some cooler-weather produce like apples.

"We're hoping things will improve with better weather and with other events we can coordinate with that bring people downtown," said Bruner.

Friendly people are the biggest drawing card

While attendance may be down, the vendors agreed that visiting with the people who do stop by is what makes their day worthwhile.

"The people are wonderful," said Gland, at A to Z Jewelry Design. "We have lots of return customers."

Cynthia Sweet sells a variety of canned jellies, jams, relishes, pickles, and side dishes at the Smyrna Farmers Market, along with fresh vegetables she grows in her garden.

She said attendance is down compared to last year, but she plans to keep coming back.

"The people are very nice," she said. "I used to go to the Dover Farmers Market, but the people here are more friendly, more open."

One of the busiest vendors on Saturday was Ficner's Family Farm, selling a variety of fruits and vegetables.

"They have the best corn in town," said customer Donna Carroll, whose mother and sister-in-law were working in the Ficner's Farm booth. "But I'd say that even if I wasn't related. It really is the best."

Marie Grimminger from Ficner's said business at the farmers market has been "somewhat slower" compared to last year, but she's planning to return each week.

"I like how friendly the people are," said Grimminger.


WHAT Smyrna Farmers Market

WHEN Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

WHERE Market Street Plaza, Smyrna, near the town hall and post office

FOR MORE INFO www.smyrna.delaware.gov under "Our Community"