The Sarasota Farmers Market is doing so well in the midst of the heat and humidity this summer that some vendors are boasting of days rivaling their very best in season.
Chris Keesecker, owner of Java Dog and an 18-year market vendor, said he has seen a huge increase in traffic this summer.
“Two years ago, summers were stagnant and vendors were stressed,” Keesecker said. “This summer, revenues are up and vendors are happy.”
Keesecker attributes the market’s off-season accomplishment to the board of directors’ newfound commitment to a year-round program.
“The overall marketing effort and look of the market have helped to keep our numbers up even in one of the hottest summers we have had in a long time,” said Keesecker, who also credited new, popular events the board has created, such as the recent seafood festival, for improved customer interest this time of year.
Sarasota Farmers Market Manager Phil Pagano said Keesecker and other vendors are telling him they are doing double the business they did last summer.
“Some of the days in the summer have rivaled some of my vendors’ best days in season,” Pagano said.
Last summer, the market had 60 vendors; this summer, it has more than 75 each Saturday. That’s only 10 fewer vendors than the market has during season.
Like Keesecker, Pagano attributes the summer boon to a two-year effort by the board to focus on a year-round farmers market. Another positive factor, he said, had been the board’s ability to convince vendors not to pack it up once season was over and the daytime highs began rising.
“Years ago, vendors gave up or never had faith in the summer at all,” Pagano said. “They never believed people would show up. We believed they would.”
And show up, they have.
While the number of vendors has doubled, Pagano believes the number of locals visiting the market this summer has doubled as well.
“Just because you live in Florida, it doesn’t mean the locals don’t want to get out of the house,” Pagano said. “It’s not excruciating hot in the morning, and that’s how we’re drawing them to the market.”
This summer, the market added new shaded areas as well as more tables and chairs, to help visitors beat the heat from the sun as it makes its ascent in the sky.
Pagano pointed to yet one more factor that is making a difference. “The fact that we are open while other markets close (like the St. Petersburg and Bradenton markets) is also a plus.”
Additionally, the Sarasota market offers only a year-round space rate. The annual fee is $1,500 for the average 10-foot-by-10-foot space.
“The year-round rate option allows us to plan an annual budget and allocate dollars for the market’s advertising,” Pagano said.
The market’s advertising budget, which Pagano declined to disclose, is now split 50-50 between the traditional season and the summer season, unlike in past years, when all the market’s efforts went toward the four months of season.
Pagano has also been promoting the market through its website, social media such as Facebook and an e-newsletter that has attracted 3,200 subscribers and live streaming in high-definition each Saturday via sarasotafarmersmarket.org.
“If you can supply a family-oriented atmosphere in a great downtown,” Pagano said, “it’s a major draw no matter what time of year it is.”