Vergennes Farmers Market move boosts sales
VERGENNES — Loaves of bread, croissants and pastry were moving steadily off Good Companion Bakery’s table not far from the monument on the Vergennes City Green this past Thursday afternoon. Manning the table was Colin Gray, who said he had been with the Ferrisburgh bakery since 2012 and working the Vergennes Farmers Market for the past several of those years.
This season, with the market back in the city’s downtown park after a two-year absence, has been very successful for Good Companion, Gray said. He estimated the bakery’s take at the market is up by about 75 percent.
“Since we’ve come back our sales have increased dramatically,” he said.
The Vergennes Farmers Market, which operated at the Kennedy Brothers parking lot the past two summers, has operated from 3 to 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays since early June and will operate through Oct. 10
Along the Main Street side of the green last Thursday, mother and daughter Sara and Anna Jo Smith from New Haven’s Smith Family Farm were selling beef and pork products.
The Smiths were asked if they were seeing better results now that the Vergennes Farmers Market is back downtown.
“Absolutely. It’s been fantastic,” Sara Smith said.
Anna Jo Smith provided the estimate: “Most weeks we’ve probably doubled our average from last year.”
Anna Jo Smith said many pedestrians and cyclists stop by the market just to chat, while more cars stop by than at Kennedy Brothers.
“It’s been more welcoming being in the center of downtown,” she said. “People are saying it’s a visual reminder.”
According to volunteer organizers and Vergennes residents Christopher and Sandy Reck, vendors are saying the numbers are back up. As of Sept. 10 the market had taken in $52,500, double its 2018 take.
Christopher Reck said that number was achieved with an average of 14 or 15 vendors compared to roughly 10 in 2018.
“We think the sales have been about 100 percent higher, and the customers have increased about 100 percent,” he said. “We’ve done some unscientific counting. It’s hard to do, but most days we think we’ve had about 350 customers.”
It’s not only the location in play, according to the Recks and to vendors. Kennedy Brothers is also a high-profile site, even if traffic tends to move more quickly there.
Christopher Reck credited the cooperation of city officials, who at the Recks’ request agreed to dedicate the half-dozen parking spaces along Park Street to the market and make the rest rooms that serve city hall and the Vergennes Opera House available to vendors and customers.
“They found it a priority to get us back there,” Reck said. “They gave us the two important things that we wanted.”
There appear to be more factors. Gray said Good Companion’s numbers also compare favorably to those during the market’s previous years downtown.
He credits Christopher Reck for his efforts to give the farmers’ market a higher profile, particularly through social media.
“Chris has done a fantastic job marketing,” Gray said, adding, “Young families are more keyed into social media than ever before. I think that makes a big difference.”
Reck said he has concentrated on social media, focusing on telling stories about the work vendors do to put their produce, meats, baked goods and other products before the public.
“You have to tell compelling stories,” Reck said, as he pointed at vendors. “If you go home and make two loaves of bread, it takes half a day. This guy makes 60. If you’ve been to other farmers’ markets you’ll recognize Mediterranean Mix. And on Thursdays, one of their big days, one of their multiples, they get up at one in the morning to make their food. And Single Farmers ... it’s just her. She’s the whole farm.”
Christopher Reck acknowledged he and Sandy have enough time to play a valuable volunteer role for the Vergennes Farmers Market.
“Small markets are hard because there’s no money to pay anyone to manage them. So you have to get people like Sandy and me to do this in our spare time for free,” Chris said. “It’s not just being here while it’s open, it’s doing all the planning and coordination with all the vendors and then the marketing, the most important thing.”
They have also emphasized recruiting vendors offering foods, not crafts, into the mix.
“We’ve really stressed transitioning our vendors to food producers, which means multiple farmers and multiple hot food (vendors),” Christopher Reck said. “I think providing lots of fresh food, locally produced, and good hot food, is really what is driving people to the market.”
Sandy Reck said many families have been able to meet all their grocery needs at the market.
“We wanted to have a good variety of foods so they could come here and have one-stop shopping and make a meal,” she said.
Sandy Reck said they have also tried to create a family atmosphere, and she believes they have succeeded.
“We’ve had a lot of families with kids come down and play and listen to music,” Sandy said. “Families spread out their blankets and just sit there and munch on veggies.”
The next challenge will be to find space for a monthly winter farmers’ market on a Saturday morning. Christopher Reck said the opera house would have been ideal, but Saturday mornings are booked, and that a parish hall with parking might be a good option.
“We are planning to re-start a winter market, which is probably going to happen once a month,” he said. “We don’t have a space yet, but that’s what we are working on. The city and we are actively looking right now. We do have some ideas.”
The Recks would also like to add a half-dozen vendors to next summer’s market. In the meantime, they and the vendors are enjoying how this season turned out.
“I interviewed every vendor,” Christopher Reck said, “and all of them had an extremely positive reaction to how it went for them this summer.”