For the first 10 years of its existence, the St. John’s Farmers’ Market (SJFM) was a once-a-week operation.
At its longest serving home in Lions Park, Saturday mornings from July through to November would bring several hundred customers — often a couple of thousand when the weather was good — to the little chalet and the grounds surrounding it, all of them eager to pick up fresh veggies, preserves and jams, crafts, baked goods and scads of other unique and locally made products.
As of this weekend’s grand opening of the new community market inside the former Metrobus depot building on Freshwater Road, the market will go to two-days per week, with Wednesdays afternoon and early evening added to the schedule.
Ann Connors, executive director of the SJFM Co-operatives, says about two-thirds of their regular vendors, along with some new ones, have signed on to do both nights.
Among them is Mike Wozney of Soul Azteka, who’s on board for both days each week from now until Christmas.
“Ironically, Wednesday is typically one of our slower days,” he says of business at his restaurant further down Freshwater Road toward to the downtown core. “I'm small enough an operation that I don't mind closing my doors and pushing people to the Farmers’ Market.
“I think the draw of the market will bring in more than what would walk up and down Freshwater road on a Wednesday evening.”
Wozney doesn’t expect that adding a second day will detract from the other. In fact, given the hours — 2-8 p.m. on Wednesday — he feels it will attract a different crowd, including the after-work dinner crowd eager to pick up a hump day meal.
“Now that we've got 10 to 12 food vendors there as well, it's almost like a gourmet food court,” he says, pointing to market neighbours The Jewish Deli, Oh My Cheeses and Fatima’s Indian Food.
“Those four vendors alones — and that's just 30 per cent of us — represent quite a broad spectrum.”
On the flipside, the Old Dublin Bakery, easily one of the most popular vendors week in and week out, won’t do Wednesdays right away.
Owner Kevin Massey handles all the production on his own, so taking on a second day would require significantly more time baking, something that’s not easy to do without sacrificing home life and time spent with his children. Moreover, Massey is already quite comfortable financially with the close to 1,000 units he sells on a standard Saturday morning, often selling out before the market closes.
“I've got the Farmers’ Market figured pretty good now, so I don't want to ruin it on myself by trying to take on too much,” he says. “If I am going to do the second day eventually, it'll be a completely different menu because the stuff that sells on the Saturday is time consuming and I have done pretty good, so I don't want to screw that up.”
Both Wozney and Massey have nothing but great things to say about the new 14,000-square-foot, $3.7-million facility that includes a commercial kitchen, community room, café, dining area, outdoor plaza and increased market space.
For Massey in particular, getting out of the elements is one of the greatest benefits, as it should improve the quality of his product.
“Around the sunshine, it's hard to do certain products. Everything is made using butter, so in the winter time everything gets hard and some people say it's not as fresh as it can be, even though it just came out of the oven,” he says, noting more space from which to sell his wares and storage space as other positives.
Wozney, meanwhile, says a bigger, more modern space, with ample parking, will draw more people to the market.
“It helps our sales, it helps our presence in the community and overall for the city it's going to be a great central point for meetings, gatherings and anything they can put there.”
Outside of it being home to the vendors, according to Connors the community space aspect has always been a major component of the plan.
“What I would love to see is that people will come in and say, 'What can we do together? How can we make this work and where do we fit in the market?' It's built to be accessible, from a physical level and a welcoming level, and we want to make sure those doors are open to ideas.”
The co-operative has already cultivated partnerships with community groups like the Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador, the School Lunch Association and even the Business Development Bank of Canada, which will conduct a series of monthly workshops on the ins and outs of running a small business.
“I think what the market has been really successful at is providing a space for people to start and for those who want to grow to really be able to grow their own client base and grow their own business,” Connors says. “What we're hoping to provide to them are additional steps and information.”
Like week-to-week operations, this weekend’s grand opening is a two-day affair. It starts Saturday morning at 8:30 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, after which the market will open with buskers and activities planned throughout the day.
On Sunday, the co-operative will host a grand-opening celebration complete with music, food, activities and tours of the facility. The event gets underway at noon and concludes at 7 p.m.
For a full list of vendors and to learn more about the market and upcoming activities, visit the new website at stjohnsfarmersmarket.ca.