SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — The South Portland Farmers Market, in its fourth year, third location, and on a new day, is getting mixed — but optimistic — reviews.
The outdoor market, held Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at City Hall, has unofficially attracted at least 100 customers per week — a small pool for the market’s 10 or 12 vendors.
But its advocates, including market manager Caitlin Jordan of Alewife’s Brook Farm in Cape Elizabeth, remain optimistic about the market’s slow and steady growth.
Part of the market’s problem has been its stop-and-go history, Jordan said, after going through three locations in four years and a change from Thursday afternoon and evening to late morning and afternoon Sunday.
The market began in the summer of 2011 at Thomas Knight Park, but it was moved in 2012 to Hinckley Drive after some customers complained the park’s cobblestone street was difficult to navigate.
After two years on Hinckley Drive between Ocean Street and Cottage Road, the street closure and parking problems sent the city and market operators back to the drawing board. They decided to move to the City Hall lot, which is empty on Sundays.
Jordan, who also manages the Scarborough Farmers Market at the same day and time at Scarborough Town Hall, said on a recent Sunday that reaction to the new location has been “pretty positive.”
But despite vendors’ efforts, and small signs placed around the city, the biggest problem continues to be public awareness.
“It’s like starting a new market every year,” she said of the market’s nomadic history.
Though she said she never recorded attendance, Jordan estimated anywhere from 150 to 200 people came to the market each week last year.
Rosemarie De Angelis, a former city councilor who spearheaded the market’s creation during her tenure, believes the market would be better served with a bigger, more colorful sign near the Casco Bay Bridge, similar to a sign posted at Scarborough Town Hall.
“There just isn’t volume,” De Angelis said. “Unless there’s some big in-your-face signage, I think they’re doing the market a disservice.”
De Angelis also raised concern that a lack of vendor variety does little to dissuade residents from crossing the bridge to Portland’s more established farmers market, held Saturdays and Wednesdays. But greater vendor diversity requires more shoppers, putting the market in catch-22, she said.
It also remains to be seen what impact the new Farm Stand, opening soon on Ocean Street, directly across the street from the City Hall parking lot, will have on the market’s success.
The Farm Stand, an extension of Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth [unrelated to Caitlin Jordan’s farm], will be a year-round indoor market offering local produce and dairy products, and organic meats — a product the city market has so far been unable to establish — from Farmers’ Gate Market in Wales.
Despite possible issues with public awareness, complaints from customers and vendors on a recent Sunday were reserved mostly for the powerful gusts of wind that at times knocked over display tables.
Maggie Bokor, a Pleasantdale neighborhood resident, said she has frequented the South Portland Farmers Market over the years because she feels “it’s a sweet, small version of the Portland market.”
“Having to move around a bit, we’ve lost a bit of traction, but we’re rebuilding,” she said on a recent Sunday, while perusing rhubarb at the Alewife stall.
April Fournier, who sold baked goods at a stand for her sister Megan Chase’s company, Sweet and Savory, said she thinks the new location at City Hall is bringing more customers to the market than ever before.
“I’ve worked this market three times, and I’m recognizing familiar faces,” she said.
As for as the new day, Fournier said Sundays give the market more of a “community feel.”
“[Sundays] are more relaxed and not as rushed,” she said. “It’s good for vendors.”
Other vendors said they are confident the market will grow as more people learn about the location. Tristan Noyes, of local lettuce farm Gromaine, said he isn’t worried, because each week has been “more and more consistent.”
Noyes, who lives in the Willard Beach neighborhood, said “it just takes people a while to get used to it.”