New Farmers Market Ready to Show Off
With the first major event at the new State Farmers Market coming this weekend, the early reviews of the 174-acre, $85 million facility in Lexington County are positive.
“We’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for it to open,” Linda Sauls of Lexington said Monday, after buying several mini-pumpkins on her first visit. “I love it. I think it’s going to be a big asset to the whole area.”
Sauls and Faye Riley of Swansea said they particularly like the new location on U.S. 321, near the intersection of Interstates 26 and 77, compared to the market’s longtime home on Bluff Road, across from Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.
“No more getting in that traffic (in Columbia),” Sauls said. “Just one turn off the interstate and you’re here.”
That makes sense for people who live in Lexington County.
However, the key to the market’s retail success will be whether folks from Columbia will drive out to the new facility, and whether travelers will stop in off the interstates. The Midlands Plant and Flower Festival this weekend could be a good test.
A similar spring festival was a hit at the old market, but clashes with football games kept the S.C. Department of Agriculture from holding a fall festival at the Bluff Road market, said market director David Tompkins.
Tompkins and his staff were tidying up Monday around the two long, open-air sheds that will be the focus of this year’s festival, which is Friday through Sunday. Construction has just started on the high-end indoor retail buildings, which will include a restaurant and educational kitchen. An amphitheater, also yet to be constructed, is slated to become the home to musical acts and demonstrations during future festivals.
For now, the market is in flux.
Two major wholesalers moved into their warehouses at the new facility in August. Other retailers have trickled into the sheds in recent weeks. Monday morning, shoppers at the new market could pick up bulk produce at the wholesalers or smaller quantities of apples, pumpkins, gourds, sweet potatoes, watermelons and mums at the sheds.
However, many of the produce retailers have opted to stay at the old market until it closes Oct. 29. Vickie Still was among the first retailers to make the move, and she’s excited about the possibilities.
“We’ve been here two weeks, and we’ve sold two tractor-trailer loads of pumpkins,” Still said. “It’s almost all new customers, and a lot of them say they’ve never been to the farmers market before. I think it’s going to do really, really well.”
Still’s family was busy Monday painting cartoon characters on small pumpkins in their shed area, which was decorated with hay bales and scary creatures. They had been at the old market for 23 years, commuting from Swansea to sell produce from May through October. The shorter drive to the new market suits Still fine, and she likes the separation of wholesale and retail space, which cuts down on noisy truck traffic.
For now, Joey Corder has to stop by both of the markets to buy a wide range of produce to sell at his R&J Produce in Ridge Spring. He loaded mums from the new market into his pickup on Monday.
“I like it so far,” he said. “I’m just waiting for the other people to come in with the fruits and vegetables so I don’t have to go over there (to Bluff Road).”
David Griffin of Mike’s Plants and Produce, who has been selling flowers at the new market for a little more than a week, still is trying to get a feel for the new home.
“A lot of people don’t know we’re out here yet,” Griffin said. “We’re hoping that’ll change when we get a little more publicity.”
Kris Carter of Irmo and Marie Cook of Prosperity stopped by both the old market and the new market Monday, searching for decorations for their folksy fall wedding this weekend. They spent about 20 minutes in Still’s stall picking out pumpkins and gourds of all shapes, sizes and colors.
“I was wondering when (the new market) was ever going to get done,” Carter said. “For us, (the new market) was better.
“At the other place, if you’re not trucks and forklifts, you don’t get much attention.”
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