Organizers say more vendors are selling produce and other foods this year at Starkville Community Market’s inaugural season at Fire Station Park than before the move.
Market attendance also appears to have increased, said market manager Jennifer Prather, but volunteers are needed to attempt headcounts at future offerings.
SCM attendance, sales and vendor applications have grown since the Greater Starkville Development Partnership took over the market’s 2013 run. Last year, the event almost doubled its amount of vendors and maintained about $4,000 in business per week, all while averaging about 800-1,000 visitors each Saturday at its former location at the corner of Lampkin and Jackson streets.
Since May, Prather said the market has averaged 22-25 vendors per Saturday session. Last year’s season started with about 10-12 vendors, she said, and supported 20 at its busiest event. Even SCM’s Tuesday offering, which completed its inaugural run last year, has increased its vendor count, she said, and averages about nine or 10 per event compared to last year’s average of five.
“The visibility of our new location is obviously a great bonus, but our vendors and our shoppers are our main marketing tool. They go to other area markets and talk about how great the Starkville crowd is,” she said. “That word-of-mouth positivity is our biggest draw. We’re seeing a lot of increased interest this year.”
Starkville aldermen agreed to the proposed SCM move to Fire Station Park, located at the intersection of Lampkin and Russell streets, in February.
Under the agreement, the Partnership inherited oversight, maintenance and liability of the under-utilized public greenspace in return for a larger, more-visible location.
Numerous members of the surrounding business community wrote aldermen letters supporting the move and pledged to open their parking lots up to market visitors.
“Some establishments have even planned their hours around the market to capitalize on the crowds, and that’s what we want,” said GSDP CEO Jennifer Gregory. “We want this to be more than a local food source — it certainly is, but we also want to create an economic driver in the downtown area. We’re very pleased with this program.”
The move also allows organizers to pursue new grant opportunities for improvements and upgrades.
In addition to increased space, the new location also provides additional electrical outlets for vendors selling items requiring refrigeration.
Increasing the amount of electrical outlets, building a structure that can house refrigeration units and opening public bathrooms are the top priorities for the future, Prather said.
Those plans are on hold, however, as officials await the completion of the upcoming Russell Street redesign.
Workers will remodel the four-lane road to two lanes and add a center turning lane. In the extra space created from the reduction, bike paths and sidewalks connecting to existing infrastructure will be added.
“We have a really great opportunity to make (SCM) the focal point of the Russell Street corridor (after work concludes),” Prather said. “The project itself is going to change the area, and we’re waiting to see how the entire road and streetscape evolves before we put our own redesign plans into motion.”
Because of the increased market size — the new location has more entrances and exits than its previous home — organizers have yet to complete a full attendance count to measure how each event stacks up with those from last year.
Residents interested in helping the Partnership with headcounts or other market-related jobs may register with Volunteer Starkville, Prather said. The organization is located in suite 21 at the Partnership’s Main Street facility. Potential volunteers may also call 662-268-2865 or visit VolunteerStarkville.org for more information.
Market guidelines and vendor applications can be found at Visit.Starkville.org/Market.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch