Monday, October 03, 2005

Farmers Market Redux

In theory, the Farmers Market has returned to Celebration. Like school bells and love bugs, it's a sure sign that fall has arrived.

In practice, I fear for its long-term survival. This year, due to the construction on the former downtown parking lots, the market has been moved to the 851 Building. That name most likely means nothing to those who live outside of Celebration, and if you don't live here, you probably have no idea where it's located. For "townies," the name instantly conjures up a mental image of the building on Celebration Avenue, just past the school, and also memories of the battle over whether it would eventually become a private school or a community center.

The community center crowd won out, and our residential owners' association is in the process of purchasing the building. Everything should be finalized in mid-October, and then the new controversies can begin over the remodeling and allotment of space. Meanwhile, since there was no feasible location for the Farmer's Market downtown, it was moved to the area outside of the 851 building and adjacent to the school gym.

The area is nice and spacious, with plenty of parking and room for vendors to spread out. Although I didn't notice personally, I read online that attendees would have access to the gym restrooms. In theory, it sounds like an ideal location. In practice, when I stopped by on Sunday, I appeared to be one of only a handful of people who had any idea that the market was there.

The problem is that the 851 Building is located past downtown, an area where tourists don't typically wander. They catch sight of the church, Town Hall, and Market Street, and they're drawn in by an invisible beam. Soon they spot the lakefront, and if there are any children in the car, they'll surely be clamoring to stop the moment they spot the interactive fountain. Soon, the adults are ensconced in rocking chairs, Barnies coffee firmly in hand, while the kids dash through the water. Or perhaps the whole gaggle will wander up and down the street, gazing at the shops with that reverent, empty stare that seems to overtake otherwise rational people the moment they leave their home state. I always wonder, do they come from Boofooland where stores do not exist?

At any rate, once they've settled in downtown, wandering a little bit farther is not too likely. Also, the Farmers Market is located pretty far off the street; it's not easily visible from Celebration Avenue. Sure, there were signs and ballons at the driveway, but ballons can mean anything from a birthday party to a fund-raising car wash. And anyone who drives more than one block in Celebration, especially on a Sunday, quickly becomes immune to the signs thanks to a plethora of plexiboard pleas to come to church or an Open House.

Since my husband loves fresh produce, we dutifully headed to the market on the way home from church. There were few merchants and fewer customers; the French bakers were there, thank goodness, as I've gotten addicted to their filled cookies (caramel or peanut butter...mmmmm!). But there was only one produce stand, rather than the usual two, and the fresh lemonade cart was absent. There were less food vendors, and even the guy who usually plays his guitar for donations was missing in action (maybe he got a recording contract over the summer).

It was even more worrisome to see so few warm bodies, since the Fall Art Festival was also in town. In theory, that should have drawn more people to the area. But sadly, the festival itself also seemed sparsely attended compared to years past. I wandered among the booths, happy to see that the Orlando Sentinel was on hand because I depend on them to replenish my scratch paper stash; the pads they hang out fit perfectly next to the phone. But even though I visited the festival on both Saturday and Sunday, I literally did not see one person buy even one item. On Saturday there were lots of looky-loos, but no one was ponying up any hard cash. On Sunday, as we hiked to Barnies for our pre-church coffee, even the lookers had abandoned ship.

I'm not sure why the art show was poorly attended. I love the downtown festivals, and in years past I've almost always found a new trinket to add to the collection at Duloc Manor. This year, the selection of crafts was sparse so I returned home both days empty-handed.

At least my husband was able to find fresh tomatoes at the Farmers Market. Ever since we moved to Florida, he can't stomach the tasteless, anemic orbs that pass for tomatoes at supermarkets in the Midwest. He eats a hearty salad every day, so when he commutes back to Chicago, he's forced to suffer with substandard veggies. As soon as he returns, it's off to the Market for his fix of "real" vegetables.

Unfortunately, to paraphrase Scrooge, if these are shadows of things that will be instead of things that might be, hubby will soon be forced to find his produce elsewhere. If the merchants don't make money, they'll stop coming. If there are no sellers, that means no buyers, which inevitably means no more Farmers Market.

I'd hate to see yet another beloved Celebration event go the way of Lights and Lemonade and the welcome nights that used to be hosted quarterly for new residents. I don't know what, if anything, can be done. Space is at a premium downtown; with the parking lots being converted into condos, that pretty much just leaves the street. But with parking at a premium, it would make a bad situation worse to shut down a road and eliminate a big chunk of on-street parking every week, especially at church-time. There are two houses of worship in the immediate downtown area, so all those people need a place to park in addition to the usual weekend swarm of tourists and locals. (Zap! Oww! The chip in my head is sparking! I take that back...we have no parking shortage here in, Celebration. Every is fine. It's the perfect place.)

We'll see what happens as falls turns into winter. Hopefully a viable solution will arise; if not, another venerable town institution will be gone. I just hope I don't see the day when we turn into just another upscale Florida subdivision with nothing to distinguish us from all the rest.

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