Urbana farmers’ market keeps it familiar



By Pamela Nisivaco

The smells of fresh coffee, kettle corn and baked goods fill the early Saturday morning air on Sept. 29 in the southeast parking lot of Lincoln Square Mall in downtown Urbana. It is just after 7 a.m., and residents have begun shopping among the booths. The sun has not yet made it over the buildings and trees across the street, creating a crisp chill. Although it is still early and the crowd is thin, most vendors are set up in their usual places and ready for customers.

The Urbana farmers’ market averages about 70 vendors each Saturday. With 195 actual booth spaces organized into five rows, it may seem location is key, but vendors said remaining in the same space so regular customers can continue to come back often matters more than booth location.

Vendors are assigned their location based on seniority and the frequency with which they attend the market, said Tom Carrino, Urbana’s economic development manager. Returning vendors who sign up for the entire season in advance receive the highest priority. Brand new vendors who sign up for the entire season will be put in the same location each week. Those who sign up on a week-to-week basis may not always be in the same spot, Carrino said.

According to the Urbana city Web site, the Market at the Square has been a tradition since 1979. For the past 26 years, Dawn Manire, a resident of Urbana, has sold her stained glass jewelry and hanging decorations at the market. When Manire first began selling her items in 1981, only two rows of parking spaces were occupied. It has really grown since then, she said. Her booth has been in the same location for years.

“Newer people tend to start in row five, but I don’t really think it makes a difference because people walk in the full market,” Manire said.

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    Grouping similar booths together is convenient for the customers so even newcomers may be assigned desirable spots. Rows one and two of the market consist of all produce vendors because they are the most popular sellers, Carrino said.

    “People in rows three, four and five don’t want to move because people continually come back (to them),” he said.

    This is the third year the Leaves-N-Beans Roasting Co. has participated in the Urbana farmers’ market. Located near the back of the market in the fourth row of vendors, company president and owner Lori McCombs said she does not mind being farther in the rear and allowing the veteran vendors the front locations. It is fair for the local farmers who have been attending for many years and more pleasing for customers to know where to find a particular booth, she said.

    Paula and Dan Erwin have been coming to the market for more than 10 years. Their booth, nicknamed “the upper crust,” sells various varieties of breads, muffins and some small pies.

    “As far as I’m concerned this is the best spot,” Dan Erwin said. “We’re right at the bottom of a horseshoe and receive a lot of foot traffic.”

    The city estimates about 5,000 to 6,000 people come to downtown Urbana to attend the market each weekend. Carrino said the purpose of the farmers’ market is to buy and support local farmers and artisans, so Urbana limits the market to products grown or crafted in Illinois. The market is run entirely on vendors’ fees, $15 for a 10-foot booth space, and receives no money from the city. The fees cover the cost of marketing, staff, signs and other necessities, and there is usually not much in carryover, Carrino said.

    “It’s good to support the local market and it’s healthy for you,” Jackie Myers, senior in LAS, said at the farmers’ market.