When the market opened on Main Street on March 7, a small crowd of shoppers slowly swelled through the day to a few hundred, and many of the 18 vendors sold out of their wares.
By the third weekend, the number of people who showed up between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. reached an estimated 688.
“This last Saturday, we had 898, so it’s steadily growing,” Maxwell said. “I couldn’t be happier with attendance.”
And vendors are still selling out of their products.
“People are leaving with two and three bags of groceries,” said Maxwell, who makes it a point to be on hand at the market every Saturday.
The usual produce, bread, cheese, meat, plants and and other locally produced items will be supplemented this weekend by a new addition, Wild Bill’s Seafood .
“Wild Bill — he’s an old Cajun boy — will be there this weekend, and he intends to bring shrimp, frog legs and oysters,” said Maxwell. “He makes regular trips to Louisiana to pick up the shrimp.”
Another new addition Saturday will be a demonstration by Jill McKeever, a Sulphur Springs resident who operates the simpledailyrecipes.com website.
“She’s going to do a baking demonstration of one of the recipes on her website, spinach feta bread,” Maxwell said. “That’s part of the magic of a farmer’s market, having something being cooked, something being baked, filling the air with the aroma, and people will learn how to make the dish. And you try to demonstrate cooking of things that the merchants have to sell. We have a merchant that sells feta cheese, and I’ve been told baby spinach is coming in, so it should all be available at the market.”
The Main Street Farmer’s Market is obviously fulfilling the mission of offering local, fresh food, but it is just as importantly creating a new atmosphere, drawing a diverse crowd of people to an area that once had become a rote destination for bureaucratic affairs.
That atmosphere, Maxwell said, is changing.
“It used to be downtown was a forgotten place on nights and weekends, just a place where we went to court and went to the post office and went to the bank,” said the city manager. “That’s beginning to change.”
The addition of hundreds of people to the downtown area each Saturay has also helped expose downtown merchants to potential new customers.
“The ones that are open on Saturday are loving it,” Maxwell said. “It's generating foot traffic, and it’s generating sales. I make it a point every Farmer’s Market to stop in and ask if they’ve gotten any business off of it. Sometimes they get a lot, sometimes a little. But they’ve been pleased with what it’s doing.”
The clientele is also beginning to show a stronger reflection of the demographic makeup of Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County, the city manager believes.
“They say with a farmer’s market, as in any kind of event, it’s really important to be all-inclusive, and we are, in fact, seeing that,” he said. “Every way I look at it, I’m pleased with the way it’s turning out.”
The market is also serving a social networking destination.
“I’m beginning to notice we have groups of people showing up — small families, or sometimes you can tell that friends met to go shopping,” Maxwell said. “That’s a real sign of success when people start showing up in groups.
“It’s as much a social thing as it is getting groceries,’” Maxwell added. “One of the most common comments I get from the market-goers is, ‘I saw somebody I haven’t seen in years, and we just visited for hours.’ I love hearing that. It tells me that the mindset is, in fact, beginning to change.”
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