Tents shielding vendors from the summer sun line both sides of Church Street, with a narrow aisle between in which a constant stream of people walk back and forth. As they move from one booth to the next, visitors to the New Paltz Open Air Market, now in its third week, are clearly pleased by what might be described as the old farmer’s market on steroids. Not only are there half-a-dozen places to purchase some of the finest farm-fresh produce in the region, there’s also honey, T-shirts, shaved ice and even a stand where jerky products for pooches are available for sale. A rough head count at noon yields about 50 people shopping, chatting, eating or enjoying the mellow live music provided by Crew; the faces change over the next hour, but the sheer number of visitors never seems to diminish.
“I like it and think it’s going well,” says Lagusta Yearwood, who is selling the shaved ice in front of her own eatery, Commissary. Business owners along the closed-off section of the street have the option to sell on the street with everyone else, as long as they pay the modest fee for that spot. “I think it’s impacting business inside, too. Ariana’s doing a great job running it.”
The Ariana she’s referring to is Ariana Basco, manager of the market, who flits from place to place, checking in on vendors and chatting up patrons, all the while wearing a smile that rivals the sun itself. Much of the work to organize the market is done ahead of time: booking bands and vendors, arranging for electricity and communicating with neighbors. That means that while the market’s open, Basco gets to be what she calls “the merry-maker.”
Live music is a delicate subject: during one of the experimental closures last year, one band seemed a bit too loud for some of the stakeholders. Even leaving their drummer at home, Basco said, the band Crew with three people is the largest ensemble that’s entertained this year. “I told them to keep it mellow,” which resulted in the strains of Pink Floyd and the like wafting through the air. Initially the plan was to avoid amplifying the music, but it became clear that no one could hear it at all. Instead, Basco checks in with nearby vendors to make sure it’s not too loud, and is pleased that the guitar’s strumming seems to draw people down off Main Street to check out the scene.
One thing that’s immediately clear is that the market is close, but not quite cramped. The only reason there’s even an aisle between the rows of 10-by-10 tents is because those on one side are partially on the sidewalk. Basco actually thinks the solution is to grow the market still more; she’d like to explore closing the next section of the roadway, from Academy to North Front streets. That way, “We could put the vendors all on one side, and have an emergency-access lane on the other.”
To expand farther would entail some thoughtful conversation on impacts. Five more parking spots would be lost each Sunday if it went up to North Front, for starters. It isn’t immediately clear what alternative could be proposed for the parking at 10 Church Street, which includes business and residential, and doesn’t have another access point. Plans for the market already include contingencies should the synagogue need to be opened for a funeral; those would likely need adjusting if the extra block was closed. Nevertheless, Basco thinks it’s a conversation worth having.
Jay Armour of Four Winds Farm, the oldest community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm in the area, spearheaded the farmer’s market for many years and has seen its ups and downs. For a long time it was in a highly visible location with parking alongside on lower Main Street, but that run ended when the landowner decided to put up a building on that lot. The market went to the community center on Veterans Boulevard, and the parking lot next to the justice court on Plattekill Avenue, but business suffered due to the lack of visibility the old Main Street spot possessed. While he’s still not doing the same volume of business on Church as he did in those days, Armour seemed hopeful that this location — as well as the re-branding — will prove to be a successful solution to the location problem.
The farmer’s market is “the right place to shop,” Armour said, and the fact that there are a number of different farms represented pleases him. “People still found me,” he said, because of loyalty and name recognition, but the more farmers selling, the more successful it is for each of them. “I do well when there’s other people around,” he said. Church Street is “a great location,” right in the middle of town, and he doesn’t think closing this stretch of street harms traffic flow in the community.
Inquiring Minds is one of the businesses with a table in front with a selection of volumes. Inside the store, Jonelyn Aspinall says that she was supportive of moving the market here from the get-go. Aspinall said she immediately recognized that this location would be far better for the farmer’s market, and felt it could help her store as well. She likes the music and thinks the vibe is “good for Church Street.”
That this is a better location than Plattekill Avenue seems to have widespread agreement. Maria Rodriguez says that her family’s been offering honey products at the market since 2006, and they are quite pleased with this year thus far. “The music brings a joyful atmosphere,” she said, “and happy people shop.”
Christina Krause was on vacation the last two weeks, and returned to discover a farmer’s market outside the door to Krause’s Chocolates. With only an hour or two to judge, she said, “Sundays seem a little bit busier,” with all the hoopla outside.
Birdie Condon and her son Malcolm stopped into the market in search of food. “I was really hungry,” said Malcolm, “and we came to see what we could find.”
“I’m loving the vibe,” said Pat Angehr, who was unfamiliar with any of the market’s earlier iterations. “I just got a honeycomb shaved ice, which was delicious, and it’s a great day to be outside and enjoy some music.”
“We weren’t expecting music,” said Birdie, “or to see people we hadn’t seen in a long time!” The conversation was cut short by a joyful reunion with friends, but the vibe will continue every Sunday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. through November 19.