HOULTON, Maine — Over the past several years, officials in Houlton have tried to establish a farmers market in the community. They have made posters and promotional materials, signed up vendors and secured appropriate spots for the weekly event to take place.
What they received in return, however, was far less than they expected and nothing that was ever sustainable.
All that appears to have changed, however, as officials at the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce, local vendors and residents are excited by the success they are seeing with a revamped community market that is attracting vendors selling everything from beans to blankets.
The Chamber is sponsoring the new market, which will be held every Saturday in Market Square through early September.
On Saturday, more than a dozen vendors took shelter under tents or in the shade to sell fruits, vegetables, homemade breads and crafts, and countless other wares to a large crowd of shoppers.
While vendors continued to sell fresh fruits and vegetables to customers in different parts of the town each year, the scattered and sporadic events didn’t fit with the Chamber’s overall vision of having one large outdoor marketplace where shoppers could find an eclectic display of morsels and merchandise. Last year, the Chamber tried to get such an event going in Monument Park, but poor turnout convinced officials to rethink their plans.
Lori Weston, the Chamber’s executive director, outlined its vision for a new approach to the idea during a Town Council meeting in late spring.
She told councilors that officials had decided to bring the smaller market into a bigger one — Market Square. The plan has vendors setting up shop in a pedestrian island in the middle of the downtown square. The approach not only makes the vendors more visible, said Weston, it also brings more traffic and potential business to the downtown shopkeepers.
Vendors said Saturday they believe the idea is working, and shoppers had nothing but praise for what one woman called “one-stop shopping.”
Jill Plummer drove from Brookton in Washington County to sell handmade jewelry she makes through her business, Let’s Jewel Around. Plummer said Saturday that she came to the Houlton market after friends told her it might be a good opportunity to spread the word about her products.
“There are lots of people here today,” Plummer said as she sat at a table covered with her handmade necklaces, bracelets and other materials. “I like the placement of this market because it’s right in the downtown and the people who are coming here to visit the shops see what is going on and come over.”
Plummer makes jewelry of her own design as well as custom pieces, as she was doing Saturday for a man who dropped off a medallion to be made into a necklace.
A short distance away, Dottie Alward of Houlton staffed a booth for Aroostook Retired Senior Volunteers Program, or Aroostook RSVP. Volunteers were selling baked goods and other products to raise money for the organization, which gives people age 55 and older volunteer opportunities throughout The County.
Gini Garrett of Mars Hill was helping Alward sell the products.
“I think it’s exciting to see so many people here,” she said. “It’s the most I’ve ever seen down here.”
Marcia Moore of Cary was at the market Saturday, purchasing flowers to plant in her window boxes. She said she has always tried to shop at farmers markets in Houlton but grew discouraged when the town couldn’t seem to support such a project.
“I started going to the market in Monument Park last year, but after a few good weeks fewer vendors started showing up until there were only one or two,” she said. “So I went back to just driving around to roadside stands, but that takes a lot of time and gas money. I’m glad to see that it is finally looking like something solid has been established here.”
Kim Chance, a Houlton resident, agreed.
“People want to buy local food and support local businesses,” she said Saturday. “This is the perfect way to do it. It’s one-stop shopping.”