2013-01-17 / Front Page

Saco market robust, say out-of-town vendors

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

SACO – For a few hours on Saturday mornings an old, neglected mill space on Saco Island is seeing an uptick of activity, harkening back to the days of constant manufacturing on the island, which sits in the Saco River between Saco and Biddeford.

From 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. until the third week in April, dozens of farmers, food vendors and craft artists come together to sell their local products at the Saco River Winter Market, located at 110 Main St.

The market has operated in the mill space behind Run of the Mill Public House and Brewery since last winter.

“It serves as a way to bring together different vendors this time of year. To be honest, there is not a lot happening with farmers and foodies during the winter months, especially after the holidays,” said Sue Sydnor, the owner of Above the Dam Jam, a peanut butter and jelly company in Dayton.

Sydnor has been selling at the market for the last two years and now is on the market’s steering committee.

On Saturday, Jan. 12, an open market was held, during which vendors from the South Portland Winter Market and the Highland Avenue Farm Market in Scarborough were invited to sell their wares in Saco.

“It’s an effort to showcase local food and local produce,” Sydnor said. “You ought to be able to eat breakfast, lunch and get your weekly groceries and do some fun shopping (at the market) because it has dairy, produce, meat and crafts.”

“This is an open market,” said Chad Churchill of Highland Avenue Greenhouse and Farm Market. “They invited our farm market and South Portland’s to come here and join them for the day.”

For some of the vendors, such as Highland Avenue Greenhouse and Farm Market, it was the first time participating in the Saco River Winter Market. However, it was the first farmers market Jim Hartley, the co-owner of Pine Tree Seafood and Produce, had ever participated in.

The experience went better than he expected. Hartley, who opened his store in September, said he brought 10 pounds of salmon and 10 pounds of haddock to sell during the three-and-a-half-hour market, but ran out of both within the first hour. That prompted him to call his store in Scarborough for more.

“This is a fantastic market. A lot of the vendors here, we carry their stuff in the store,” Hartley said. “This is a great venue and is fantastic exposure. I am on Route 1 and there is more (foot) traffic here that I typically see this time of year.”

Hartley said he would like to continue having a presence at the Saco market.

“I’ll continue to come here as long as they’ll have me,” Hartley said. “It’s about supporting the small business community.”

Roy Guzman, who has been selling his salsa at the market since November, said it provides enough food traffic and clientele to make it worth his time, something that isn’t always possible at other winter markets.

“It is a nice market. Every week it gets bigger and bigger,” said Guzman, head chef and owner of Guzman’s Salsa of South Portland.

Laurie Swan, owner and operator of Spice-Monkey Spices in Dayton, said farmers markets give her a chance to interact directly with her consumers. Swan started the hand-blended, original recipe spice business last May and spent last summer selling her spices, seasonings and rubs at the Scarborough Summer Farmers Market.

“I like the person-to-person feel. I can sell my products online, but I don’t get to explain the spices or answer questions,” said Swan, who also sells her spices at the South Portland Winter Market, which operates at the city planning office on the corner of Ocean Street and Sawyer Road on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“I don’t think if I lived anywhere else but Maine, I could have started the company with confidence,” Swan added.

The success of the Saco River Winter Market, Swan said, is due to the mix of food vendors and craftspeople.

“I think it is great to have the blend of both craft people and farmers because it draws a more varied clientele in. They look around at things they may not otherwise,” Swan said.

Rebecca Pirone, who runs My 3 Italian Sisters Cookies with her sisters Joanne Costa and Laurie MacDonald, said farmers markets give their Portland-based business good exposure. The business, which opened a little more than a year ago, also participates in summer markets in Scarborough and Gorham and the winter market in South Portland.

“It is a great way to get our name and product out there. Word of mouth is the best advertisement for us,” Pirone said, adding that farmers markets are a great way to support farmers and crafters and other small businesses.

“It keeps the money local. It keeps the business local. People want to support the local economy,” Pirone said. “We use local products. We get our milk, butter and eggs locally.”

Churchill said markets like the one in Saco, South Portland, or the one that operates at Highland Avenue, are a great way for farmers and food producers to make a living during winter, often the slowest time of year. The Highland Avenue winter market, which runs Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., was started this winter as a way for the garden center and food market to survive the cold winter months.

“It’s a way to help our share of the local farmers and businesses in the community and give them a space to sell their products, support the community and keep the money local,” Churchill said.

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