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Market looks to be on its last legs

March 14, 2016
By John Morton ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

In November, the town's farmers market fled the north-island construction for a new home in the parking lot of Bay Oaks Recreation Center. Three months later, it is fast approaching a scenario where it has no home at all.

"The town shouldn't be in the farmers market business," Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda said at the March 7 Town Council meeting after hearing reports of dwindling vendors and customers. The market is slated to run through April.

Friday's scene was indicative of how far it has fallen, with only six vendors in place and only a handful of customers milling about.

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The town's farmers market in the Bay Oaks parking lot was home to only six vendors on Friday morning.

"Why don't they promote this at all?" asked Susie Shreve, a worker manning the German Bakery and More tent, who noted that each week sees more and more vendors drop out. "There's not even much signage."

Indeed, only a small sign on Estero Boulevard near the Bay Oaks entrance pointed customers toward the market. In December, Kyle Karczewski, the town's recreation coordinator, said the market was strong on the number of vendors, it being in the low 20s out of 28 spots, but hurting for customers. He also said the town had gutted the market's promotional budget.

He said the move, from the market's high-visibility home on town-owned parking spots under the Sky Bridge to the tucked-away setting at Bay Oaks, was difficult on customers - especially those who visited on foot.

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Ron and Jan Sauder, annual visitors from Cincinnati, agreed.

"We always stay on the north end of the island and we really enjoyed walking to the market," Ron Sauder said Friday morning in the Bay Oaks parking lot. "We reluctantly drove down here - we were worried about the traffic being bad."

Shreve said she hears similar comments.

"A lot of people have complained about the move," she said. "They were used to the other place. As for everybody else, I doubt they even know we're here."

Construction headaches aside, returning to the old location is not an option, Cereceda said, because of the need for salvaging parking spots in the parking-starved downtown area.

For now, she is suggesting the vendors find a new home.

"We should tell them to join forces at the other markets where the customers are," Cereceda said. "Those markets are thriving."

One is the Tuesday-morning market at Santini Marina Plaza at the island's south end, and the other is the Wednesday-morning market mid-island at Beach Baptist Church at Connecticut Street. Both sit directly along Estero Boulevard and are impossible to miss.

The Beach Baptist market, which Cereceda originally opposed due to it being in what she considers a "quiet zone" on the island, started in late November just shortly after the town market's move. It now boasts nearly 50 vendors.

"That's probably where they're going," Shreve said of her former vendor peers.

Whether the town's market will survive in some other form is yet to be seen, but it does have a history of being fairly resilient, Cereceda said. It has existed roughly 15 years in several different incarnations, originally being created as part of a "Main Street" program and intended to draw people to Times Square.

She said the merchants there felt it took up too much space, so it eventually was pushed aside and became the town's problem.

"Like so many projects, it just fell into the town's lap," Cereceda said. "The question is, with all we have on our plate do we want to take up the time of the staff to support a farmer's market?"



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