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Summer market to fill a niche

By PAUL SWIDER
Published May 16, 2007


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With the Saturday Morning Market winding down for the season, a summer option is opening up farther west on Central Avenue.

Next month, the sidewalk in front of Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill and neighboring Gas Plant Antiques and Arcade will be home to a subset of vendors after the downtown market closes at the end of this month.

Starting June 2 and every Saturday through September, market regulars will be able to continue their weekend shopping along the corridor of Central Avenue and 13th Street.

"We know we're not going to do as well as downtown because the tourists are gone, " said Ferg's owner Mark Ferguson, "but it would be a shame to discontinue the market just because it gets hot."

Ferguson said he dreamed up the scheme last year but just recently pursued it. Word is spreading rapidly among vendors, many of whom depend on the Saturdays to make money.

"On a typical four-hour Saturday, I do as well as at a two-day trade show, " said Bob Bradley, whose Classic Adirondack cypress furniture holds a corner spot at the downtown market. "That's why I'm going up to Ferg's. I'd like to keep it going."

Ferguson said he has room for about 30 vendors and has commitments from about 20. He said the streets won't be closed, but the vendors will fit on the sidewalks, in the parking lot next to his building and even in Ferg's covered patio, which is part of the bar.

"Wherever there's shade, " Ferguson said.

The regular market closes during the summer. Many vendors find it oppressive to sit in a tent for hours with the sun beating down, but others are excited by the prospect of a summer market.

"If I can wear a tuxedo in July, it must not be too hot, " said Brady Johnson, a downtown regular as Mr. I Got 'Em. He has been selling produce and smoked meats outdoors year-round for 10 years while dressed in a top hat and tails. "If you see me sweat, you get something for free."

The success of an experimental summer location may be telling as well, as the downtown market begins to shop for new space. About half of its 100 current vendors are on a vacant lot that is slated to become a high-rise development in the next few years. The market won't have to move for at least a year, but its own success is already forcing it to look elsewhere.

"It's just getting crowded, " said Mark Johnson, who runs the Saturday downtown market.

"Three years ago, we were out beating the streets for vendors. Now they come flooding through our e-mail gate."

Johnson said he has twice as many vendors as he has spaces for, with more asking all the time. Shopper numbers grow more than 30 percent a year.

"It's conceivable that five years from now, we could be drawing 15, 000 people in a day, " Johnson said of what is already the largest market in the southeast United States. "We pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and now this jewel has fallen in the city's lap."

The market toyed with using Williams Park, but Johnson said parks like that are not a long-term solution because they don't allow the fast load-unload he needs for busy single-day events.

He said he's hoping to one day use the facilities at Progress Energy Park or the Mahaffey Theater on the waterfront. He envisions an ideal site with parking, power and a standing structure for some vendors to use all week long.

Johnson said he doesn't see his market extending into the summer, but he said there is certainly appetite for market shopping while he's shut down. The vendors who agree are concerned only that people might not find their new site.

"A lot of people just happen upon us now, " said Karen Krymski of Jewelled Cat, a jewelry and accessories seller. "We hope the same thing happens up at Ferg's."

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.

Fast Facts:

Summer market

June 2 to Sept. 29

Central Avenue and 13th Street

[Last modified May 15, 2007, 23:55:16]


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