Despite the best efforts of organizers, the Smyrna Farmer's Market has struggled to capture a large, faithful audience. Will a new day and time make a difference?
The Smyrna Farmer’s Market will enter its own season of change this year when it returns for a repeat performance downtown. However, last year’s low attendance and blistering heat kept enough people away that organizers knew they would need to revamp their 2014 plans in order to keep the market alive.
So, as last year’s market closed for the season, Robin Bruner and Janet Vinc began tossing around ideas for different days, times and locations that might make the market more palatable for more people.
“Last year, it seemed like there was a festival that we had to compete with almost every Saturday,” Bruner said. “Or, people were away at the beach or on vacation. There was always something keeping people away on Saturday mornings.”
She began talking to people and tried to get a consensus on the best times and days to hold the market. She and Vinc were also not sure that Market Street Plaza was the best location.
“It’s a big space to fill and can be disruptive to traffic,” Bruner said of the market’s well-known location.
Then, she talked to the Smyrna Opera House’s new director Bernadette Sahm about the possibility of moving the market, hoping that she would be amenable to playing host, at least outside.
“Bernadette was so sweet about it and seemed genuinely excited about the idea,” Bruner said. “Once she was on board, we knew we could start rethinking the whole thing.”
WATERING NEW ROOTS
The new market will now take place on the green spaces behind the SOH/library building. The noticeably smaller space allows Bruner and Vinc to be more selective with vendors, too, which she hopes will add to a more authentic farmer’s market feel. The focus will be on local and regional food and food products. She also said that quality will prevail over quantity. In the short term, there will likely be little, if any, craft products.
“We always envisioned the market this way,” she said. “But, when we were on the plaza, we needed all the vendors we could get to fill the space.”
Her hope is that the market will naturally evolve to include craft items or craft-specific occasions.
Thursday evening will also become the new Saturday morning this summer as well. Instead of getting up early on the weekend and heading down to the hot pavement of Market Street Plaza, visitors can drop by the Smyrna Opera House and shop local produce on their way home from work, from 4 to 7 p.m.
The time also coincides with the Thursday night hours of the Smyrna Public Library, which stays open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays.
“We usually see a lot of traffic on Thursday nights,” said SPL Director Beverly Hirt, whose indoor programs offer a nice complement to what will be happening outdoors. “The library usually hosts several groups on that night during the summer. We have a family game night as well as a writer’s club and a poetry club.”
For customers—including herself—she also sees a lot of potential to the changes.
“It’s so much cooler in the evenings and it will be so convenient for people to grab some stuff for a salad or something right after work,” Hirt said.
The last change will be a considerably shorter market season. Last year, the season stretched all the way into fall. This year, the season will start on Thursday, June 12 and end on Thursday, Aug. 28. However, organizers are also open to considering a once-a-month fall option if there is a public demand for it.
WILL CHANGE WORK?
By and large, Bruner said that people have responded positively to the changes since they were announced on the market’s Facebook page last Thursday. Only one commenter voiced concerns about parking, trash and noise.
“The majority of people I’ve spoken to seem to be excited about the changes,” she said. “Everything we’ve done has been for the benefit of the locals. We knew we had to do something [last year] and were not quite ready to give up yet.”
Support for change, Bruner added, has also included members of the Smyrna Downtown Renaissance Association, who have provided financial support and promotion. She is also pleased with Mayor Joanne Masten, the town council and many members of local administration and staff who have also been supportive. She said that it points to much of the town’s commitment to the “live, shop, play local” philosophy for cultural and economic development adopted by the town.
“This is the best thing we know to do to give people a good farmer’s market experience,” Bruner said. “When the time comes, I may have to accept that Smyrna is not ready for a farmer’s market but I don’t think we’re there yet. Plus, I think we are ready. Hopefully, we’ll see a lot of other people who think we’re ready, too, when we kick things off in June.”