For the second year in a row, vendors at the Bellingham Farmers Market will have a chance to see if they can attract enough business to extend the popular downtown market beyond its regular April to December season.
The market’s first winter edition of 2014 will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 18, in Depot Market Square at 1100 Railroad Ave. Additional winter markets are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 15, and Saturday, March 15.
Caprice Teske, the market’s director, said last year’s inaugural winter run was successful enough to allow colder-weather markets to return.
“Last year we had a really, really good response from customers,” Teske said.
With the experience gained from last year’s winter season, vendors will likely see 2014 as a proving ground, she said. More than 30 have signed up for spaces in the Jan. 18 market—nearly half are farmers selling either meat, cheese or produce.
Teske said she expects more vendors will be added at markets in February and March, as weather improves.
Vendor applications for the market’s main season are being accepted until Jan. 31. (More information is online at www.bellinghamfarmers.org.)
After seeing significant growth for several years, the number of annual visitors to the market’s main season appeared to level off in 2013, Teske said. Although market staff did not keep a head count of shoppers last year, Teske believes the visitor total from 2013 was similar to that of 2012, when the market drew an estimated average of 10,000 shoppers per month, she said.
Teske said the market’s appeal to shoppers grew heavily each year between 2006 and 2010. She attributed that growth to the completion of the Depot Market Square facility in downtown Bellingham, as well as exposure in regional and national media outlets, which also helped increase traffic from out-of-state and Canadian shoppers, she said.
Teske added that the rising popularity of locally produced food has helped drive more business to market vendors.
Market organizers saw 145 small businesses from in and around Bellingham and Whatcom County sign up for vendor spots throughout 2013. Each weekly market last year featured about 100 vendors, Teske said.
Despite slower year-to-year growth of total shoppers, Teske said her staff is beginning to see more visitors use the market as an actual shopping venue, rather than just a recreational event.
“What we’re seeing is more consistency with customers coming to the market,” she said.
Teske said increasing the market’s community education and promotional components are among her major goals for 2014. She said she would like to raise more awareness of lesser known elements, including the fact that market shoppers can use food stamps to make purchases.
The market’s board of directors also plans to begin devising long-term strategies for future growth and community outreach, she added.
Evan Marczynski, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805 or email@example.com.