The two weeks that Turlock Certified Farmers Market vendors spent downtown this year selling local products to customers were a bright spot during an otherwise dismal market season, causing vendors to yearn for the days when shoppers could spend their Saturday mornings buying goods on Main Street.
Reflecting on the 2018 season as it came to a close this weekend, TCFM Market Manager Derek Griffin said that it was “fine.”
“It is what it is,” he said. “The fairgrounds and the people here have been great hosts, but this was never supposed to be a permanent location for us.”
TCFM made the move to the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds for its 2016 season, following a contentious debate surrounding who would run the downtown market when both the nonprofit TCFM and for-profit Golden State Farmers Markets Association applied for competing street closure requests. Up until that point, TCFM had operated a market in downtown Turlock for six years, but ultimately, TCFM chose to withdraw its request and seek a different location, landing the market at the fairgrounds.
Today, GSFMA no longer holds a weekend farmers market on Main Street and instead oversees the Central Park Evening Market, which is held in Central Park every Thursday from May to September.
In its third season at the fairgrounds, TCFM saw 50 vendors return for another year of selling fruits, vegetables, artisan goods and more to the Turlock community. Tsymbal Winery owner Tony Tsymbal, who sells honey products at the market, said that this year’s market was much slower than years past.
“Most of the time what I bring here, I take it back home,” Tsymbal said. “Everybody wants to be back downtown. Then, people could come have a cup of coffee or go out to eat then go to the market, but here there’s too much ugly dust and flies.”
Hailey Kellstrom, who is on the TCFM Board and owns Soaps by Hailey, echoed Tsymbal’s sentiments.
“There’s a difference between downtown and the fairgrounds — one is a destination for everyone and one is out of the way. Obviously I prefer downtown, no question,” Kellstrom said. “I still did well this year because I came out with a lot of new products and I have a lot of repeat customers that I’ve built over the years. So, I did okay — probably a lot better than some of the food vendors — but it was slow overall.”
The market did get the chance to return downtown this year when the Stanislaus County Fair returned to Turlock in July, filling the livestock stables where vendors typically set up on Saturdays with cows and pigs. It was the first time since spring 2015 that TCFM has been able to return downtown, albeit for just two short days.
“Going back downtown for two weeks during the fair was quite enjoyable. We had a great turnout there,” Griffin said. “It was very nice for the Turlock community to see us back on Main Street.”
While Griffin declined to comment on attendance numbers at the market downtown versus the fairgrounds, Kellstrom shared that the sales were incomparable.
“In the two days that I was downtown, I made more than I had the entire season leading up to that point,” she said. “The first day during the first year of the market at the fairgrounds was completely different than it has been as it continues to go on…I’ve always done better downtown and get a lot of new customers there because people are going downtown to eat or go shopping and they just stumble upon the market. That was always really helpful.”
While Griffin stated that TCFM’s move to the fairgrounds wasn’t meant to be permanent, he also declined to say whether or not there were plans to try and bring the market back downtown again, referring to it as a “Board decision.”
Still, he understands the vendors’ desire to return to Main Street.
“It’s slowing down because it’s an out of the way destination,” Griffin said. “We have loyal customers, and their support is what continues to keep the farmers market viable.”