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New facility gives Farmers Market abundant season
Main Street Market’s 2022 attendance surges by 4,000 visits compared to last full season
Mark Bozzacco, right, from Charlotte, North Carolina, tastes Statesboro-area wildflower honey after Jennifer Kimbrell, left, of Humble Bumble Bee Farm offered him a sample during Shopping by Lantern Light. The Tuesday night event followed the Statesboro M
Mark Bozzacco, right, from Charlotte, North Carolina, tastes Statesboro-area wildflower honey after Jennifer Kimbrell, left, of Humble Bumble Bee Farm offered him a sample during Shopping by Lantern Light. The Tuesday night event followed the Statesboro Main Street Farmers Market's 34-week 2022 Saturday morning market season in the new venue. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

With its new, partly indoor, mostly sheltered location, the Statesboro Main Street Farmers Market this season saw its highest shopper participation in at least seven years, and probably ever.

This was also the first full season after the COVID-19 pandemic brought a shutdown of the face-to-face market, but lasting growth for the online Market2Go, in 2020. Face-to-face Saturday markets had returned for just a partial season, mid-June to November, in 2021, at the old location in the Synovus Bank parking lot.

Then, occupying the new site in and around the transformed former warehouse behind the Visit Statesboro welcome center at 222 South Main, the 2022 Saturday market season stretched from April 2 to Nov. 19. This season broke new ground both with the number of vendors and the total dollars shoppers spent with the vendors as a group, said Market Manager Willow Farmer.

“In general, our market averaged about 35 to 40 vendors, which is about 10 more per week than we were having last year at our old venue at Synovus,” Farmer said.

Together, those vendors were “were accumulating total revenue every week of about $15,000 to $20,000 on a really good week, and about $10,000 to $15,000 on a medium-to-slow week,” she said Tuesday. “But that is, again, about $5,000 to $8,000 per week more than we were making last year, which is awesome.”

Shopper Melinda Smith, facing away, completes her purchase of fresh late-season vegetables with Jacobs' Produce matriarch Linda Jacobs, center, while employee Olga Sole holds one of the bags. Jacobs had also prepared 12 pecan pies and 16 loaves of special
Shopper Melinda Smith, facing away, completes her purchase of fresh late-season vegetables with Jacobs' Produce matriarch Linda Jacobs, center, while employee Olga Sole holds one of the bags. Jacobs had also prepared 12 pecan pies and 16 loaves of specialty breads for Shopping by Lantern Light. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

After the weekly in-person farmers’ market concluded last Saturday, another tradition followed on Tuesday night, the Shopping by Lantern Light pre-holiday market. It’s always a somewhat different species, with holiday seasonal vendors selling craft items and baked goods and other prepared foods, in addition to a few growers who participated in the Saturday markets and still have produce to sell.

This year’s Shopping by Lantern Light featured 65 vendors. Farmer was interviewed while the event was still underway, and so did not have an actual count of Tuesday’s shoppers, but she offered a guess that that about 2,000 had turned out. Regular produce vendors present said it appeared to be the largest crowd of the year.

The Saturday market “did have a few slow weeks in the middle of summer, when it was really, really hot or people were traveling,” Farmer said, but estimated there were 600 to 800 guests for a typical Saturday.

 

Record numbers

In fact, the Main Street Farmers Market and its host organization, the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau, or SCVB, contract with a service that estimates crowd sizes from the number of cellphones communicating with towers in an area.

This data yielded a cumulative estimate of 25,500 (raw number 25,583) shopper, or “guest,” visits for all of this year’s Saturday markets, reports SCVB Executive Director Becky Davis. That was roughly 4,000 more visits than for the last full-season market, in 2019, when there were an estimated 21,500 (raw number 21,554) individual visits.

The raw numbers aren’t exact counts, the method really being intended to produce an estimate.

“I would say over 25,000 versus over 21,000, just to be safe,” Davis said.

Of course, many of the same people return on multiple Saturday mornings, so that total doesn’t mean there were 25,000 different guests through the season. But dividing 25,000 by the 34 market Saturdays gives an average of 735 guests, well within the 600 to 800 range that Farmer cited as typical.

Based on attendance estimates going back seven years, Davis believes this was the market’s best-attended season ever.

“I really do,” she said. “I mean, we can go back seven years, and at a glance it was definitely higher than the past seven years,” she said.

 

Indoor-outdoor

The new venue, which debuted with this season’s opening, reflected an investment of more than $900,000 in the warehouse conversion, being repaid from the hotel-motel tax. A few more than half of the weekly vendors fit inside the resulting Main Street Farmers Market and Events Building.

But vendors, who also pay an annual membership fee, were charged $25 each Saturday for indoor spaces, $30 for “covered” spaces under the roofs extending out from three sides or $15 for outdoor spaces beyond. Some vendors said they preferred the outdoor spaces.

But indoor or sheltered spaces were many vendors’ favorite things about the new facility. Jennifer and Curtis Kimbrell, who operate Humble Bumble Bee Farm, keeping about 150 honey bee hives near Statesboro, sold their wildflower honey at the market all but about two Saturdays this season and were back at an indoor table Tuesday evening.

“I love the facility. …,” said Jennifer Kimbrell. “It’s all-weather. You know, we’ve had some rainy days; we’ve still had lots of good turnout. There’s a nice breeze through here; it was never really hot. … So we don’t have to worry about the elements or the weather as much.”

The vendors and manager had tweaked the set-up through the season and “got a really good flow,” of guests through on Saturdays, she added.

Don Jacobs of Jacobs Produce had sounded cautiously optimistic at the beginning of the season, saying the new venue was “going to be interesting” but that he was “excited in a way and hoping (it would) work out fine.”

“I think overall it’s been as good or better,” Jacobs said Tuesday, thinking back on the season. “It’s easier on us for the convenience of the trailer right here with us, not having to put up a tent.”

The crowds had tapered off some by late summer and early fall, but then Tuesday evening’s crowd was the biggest of the year, he observed.

 

Parking challenge

Cars not only filled the Visit Statesboro parking lot but those of several surrounding businesses. So, Farmer was asked whether parking is a problem for the venue on busy market days.

“Yes and no,” she said. “We actually are really fortunate to have some in-kind sponsors that lend us their parking lots, seven local businesses within the immediate vicinity … including Queensborough Bank, Quality Inn, REMAX and a few others.”

The in-kind-sponsors are listed among other sponsors at www.visitstatesboro.org/farmers-market.

“All of those have offered their parking lots, but they’ve filled up really quick, so we’ve noticed that people are parking all the way downtown and walking over,” Farmer said.  “So we’re hoping for next year we can even expand our in-kind sponsors and get more parking available.”

 

Off-season activity

Working with the city government and contractors, the SCVB will now be installing a picnic area and boardwalk in the area behind the market and events building, including a footbridge over the creek to Willie McTell Trail.

Construction should start in January, with the bureau and city doing all they can to have it complete before the market reopens the first weekend in April, Davis said.

Meanwhile, Visit Statesboro proposes to hold a couple of craft markets during the off-season, she said.

And for local produce, the Statesboro Farmers Market’s online service remains open year-round. Orders can be placed Friday until Tuesday night for pickup each Thursday. See statesboromarket2go.locallygrown.net for more information.

 

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