I went downtown Saturday morning for the first downtown farmers market of the summer. It was my first time attending the downtown market, or any local farmers market for that matter. Appearing busier than during the week, it was great to see so many people and downtown so vibrant, no matter how temporary. According to the Gazette attendance was over 10,000. I imagined the crowd and activity was not too unlike the hustle and bustle of a Saturday morning 40 or so years ago when downtown was still the prime retail center of town with all the major department stores.
Since 2006, the farmers market has been held on downtown streets on select Saturdays throughout the summer season. Before that the market was held at the Riverside Roundhouse by Czech Village, about ten blocks away from the downtown core and across the river. In 2006 the Downtown District group proposed moving the market to the streets of downtown for the benefit of businesses and to get more people downtown. Not surprisingly the majority of Czech Village business owners strongly objected to this idea. A handful of vocal market-goers made shortsighted arguments that the move to downtown would fail and prevent some elderly regulars from shopping because they couldn’t park as close and would, God forbid, have to walk a couple of blocks. Nevertheless the downtown market was given a try the first Saturday of each month in summer ’06. Though I did not attend any, they were reported successes and drew many first time shoppers. This downtown market was clearly something to consider.
In 2007, the regular Riverside Roundhouse market officially ended its 40+ year run as the market was permanently moved to a parking lot at 8th Avenue and 2nd Street on the southern edge of downtown, about midway between Czech Village and the core of downtown. Business owners in Czech Village were understandably displeased as many depended on the Roundhouse market to bring in customers during the summer months. I don’t remember hearing a whole lot about this move but I imagine it was done to increase visibility at the busy street corner and capacity, after the previous summer’s trial market downtown had generated greater public interest. At least at this location the naysayers could not complain about a lack of convenient parking. However a market in a big parking lot with few trees in the hot summer sun can get pretty uncomfortable. In that regard both the downtown location, partially or entirely shaded by buildings and street trees, and the indoors Roundhouse location would be better.
This summer the farmers market will be held downtown twice in June and August, and again on the first Saturday of July, September and October. This year it has expanded on to the otherwise underutilized May’s Island in addition to two blocks of 2nd Avenue SE, two blocks of 2nd Street SE and two blocks of 1st Street SE. Clearly the partial move to downtown has done wonders for the farmers market, yielding increased popularity, attracting many new vendors and customers. My hope is that the farmers market will be permanently moved to the streets of downtown in the coming seasons. It is truly a delightful experience in downtown and fosters community interaction while growing into one of the midwest’s largest open air markets.
For more information visit the CR Recreation Department’s Farmers Market website.