Midday Market draws a crowd
Diversity reigns as the debut brings 1,000 to the downtown haven for the homeless.
By JON WILSON
Published February 8, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - Call it midday mellow in Williams Park.
Spinning off the weekly Saturday Morning Market, a first-time food and crafts fair in the heart of downtown drew hundreds of people on a sunny Wednesday while generating no conflict with perhaps 50 homeless people who live in the park by day.
"Everybody's been really nice," said David Cellon, who manages the new Wednesday Midday Market and Saturday's tried-and-true event.
Cellon came to the park a few hours before the 11 a.m. market start and asked some of the urban campers to move their bedrolls and other belongings away from spots near the bandstand where vendors would set up. They readily complied, he said.
A half-dozen police officers, some mounted on the two-wheeled motorized vehicles called Segways, kept a high profile throughout the three-hour event. They reported no problems.
It marked the debut of a four-week experiment aimed at the lunch crowd. The market is scheduled 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the next three Wednesdays.
If Wednesday's experience is an indicator, the event could be a hit. Cellon estimated as many as 1,000 people visited about 25 vendors.
Still, Downtown Partnership president Don Shea cautioned against hasty judgement - "whether (Wednesday) is a flop or a smashing success." A Feb. 16 meeting of organizers will determine whether the Midday Market works well enough to continue beyond its first month.
It is also being viewed as a delicate exercise in diverse urban living. Wednesday's market put street people near shirt-and-tie or casually clad office workers, retirees and visitors.
Very little interaction took place Wednesday among the park regulars and the strollers who munched Italian sausage, barbecue and baked goods, some picnicking on 25 tables set up by people from St. Petersburg College.
But discouraging words were hard to hear.
"I think it's a healing thing," said Steve McCabe, a park habitue who acted as a kind of bridge between the organizers and the homeless people.
McCabe, 50, said he helped direct traffic when vendors were setting up. Cellon confirmed it.
"I think it's good for people to come out and see there's a face attached to the people they see so much about in the media. We're not dangerous. We're good people in a bad spot," McCabe said.
By 12:30 p.m., customers stood in line 15 deep at some vendor tents. None appeared worried about anything more than how quickly they could get a bite to eat.
Several said they had no qualms about visiting a venue homeless people frequent.
"I don't care. They're just people," said Sarah Citrone, 60, who rode a motorized scooter from a downtown high-rise.
Herb Colvin and his Bay Coffee and Tea Co. was one of several vendors who also are Saturday morning regulars.
"I didn't know what to expect," Colvin said. "But it turned out great."
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. the next three Wednesdays
Where: Williams Park, St. Petersburg