New system for Grove City's farmers market grows in popularity

ALAN FROMAN
afroman@thisweeknews.com
Volunteer Heather Brokaw of Grove City hands out goods to customers at the Grove City Farmers Market on May 30 n the parking lot behind the businesses on Broadway between Park Street west of Broadway and Grant Avenue.

With a pre-order/advance pay and drive-thru pickup format, the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce has managed to produce a 2020 farmers market that allows customers to purchase fruits, vegetables and naturally made products.

The revamped market opened for the season May 16 and is continuing each Saturday through Sept. 5.

About 25 vendors are participating, and that number likely will increase as the summer progresses, chamber executive director Shawn Conrad said.

"There are more vendors who sign up during our summer market because that's when the later-season produce starts coming in," she said.

Customers are able to advance order their items online directly from market vendors via links on the chamber website, gcchamber.org, and pick up their orders from 8:15 to 11 a.m. Saturdays.

The pickup area is in the parking lot behind the businesses on Broadway between Park Street west of Broadway and Grant Avenue.

Each vendor sets a deadline for orders depending on the products they sell, said Marilyn Reiner, the chamber's events manager.

"We've received a lot of good feedback from our vendors," she said.

The number of customers has been increasing each week, with 75 to 80 people ordering and picking up items on the last Saturday in May, Conrad said.

"I think a lot of people miss the traditional market setting where you can walk along the vendor booths and enjoy the sight and aroma of the fresh produce and sample items before you buy," she said.

At the same time, some customers prefer the drive-thru option because they like the convenience of not having to get out of their cars, Reiner said.

Even when it returns to a traditional format, the market may include an advance order and pickup component, she said.

"We're still hoping, if guidelines allow, to possibly look to combine the drive-thru and walk-up markets yet this summer," Reiner said. "We would have to maintain the 6-foot social distancing guidelines, and that would be difficult on the sidewalks along Broadway and Park."

The chamber has yet to broach the idea of including at least some vendor booths at the market with the city, Conrad said.

If vendors were allowed to open up booths, they would likely be in the parking areas behind businesses on Broadway, she said.

Although the chamber canceled its annual Taste of Grove City and Business Expo in March, other signature chamber events still are being planned, Conrad said.

Those events include the chamber open golf outing July 13 at Hickory Hills Golf Club and the Arts in the Alley festival and parade, Sept. 19 and 20 in the Town Center.

"It could still change, but that's our goal," she said.

The application process for artists and craft makers to participate in Arts in the Alley has been extended, and vendors can download an application at gcchamber.org, Reiner said.

While she wishes the traditional farmers market could be held this year, Angel King, who owns and operates Blue Jacket Dairy in Bellefontaine with her husband, Jim, describes herself as "thrilled" the market is going forward even in a revamped format.

"I really appreciate the chamber's ability to come up with an alternative, especially when there's so many other events that have been canceled," she said. "They've done a fabulous job organizing and marketing the farmers market this year."

Blue Jacket Dairy produces artisan cheese with both cow and goat milk, King said.

"It's always better to be on site with samples that people can try," she said. "I love interacting with all the people. I miss that interaction."

But there are customers who might like the convenience of ordering online and knowing the items they want will be available, King said.

"Some days, we might have an item that's really popular and it's sold out if you wait later in the day to stop by the market," she said. "I really think the pre-order and pickup option is going to become a regular part of farmers markets moving ahead."

Becky Martin co-owns Urban Spreads with Amy Smith in Franklinton.

They have sold their homemade jams and spreads at the Grove City market since 2013.

It would be better to have a traditional market operating, but there are some advantages to the pickup format, Martin said.

"Things have been a little slower, but the slowdown has been nice in some ways," she said. "It hasn't been as hectic."

Urban Spreads allows customers to order their items for pickup in Grove City up to 3 p.m. Fridays. Its jams and spreads also are sold through pre-sales at the Worthington Farmers Market by Franklinton Farms.

Knowing what items customers want to buy makes it easier to set up each week's production schedule, Martin said.

She does miss the hustle and bustle of a traditional market setting, she said.

"You miss seeing the people," Martin said.

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