Farmers markets looking good | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Farmers markets looking good

Susan Wood and Jeff Munson

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune Wolf Strauss, left, and his wife, Michael, visiting from San Jose, buy produce from K&J Orchards at the Heavenly Village farmers market.

Sales are growing at Heavenly Village for the El Dorado County Certified Farmers Markets – turning a sputtering venue last summer into a sweet opportunity for at least one of 22 vendors.

Hidden Canyon Ranch of Placerville sold about $300 in merchandise last Friday – mainly honey and candles.

“In the six years we’ve been doing it, this has turned into the best market ever,” co-owner Shirley Harshman said, tallying receipts from the weekend’s markets.

Harshman compared the performance to Tuesday’s markets, where the farm sells about a third of what it made Friday.

Visitors have turned out to peruse produce and packaged products ranging from the Mitchell sisters’ jam to K&J Orchards fruit. There are also crepes, olive oil and cheeses for sale. The markets, which didn’t necessarily start with a bang July 2, have been fine-tuned with a mix of merchants.

A sampling of vendors on Friday found many indeed welcome the competition because it ensures plenty of choices to go around. Those who put on the market agree.

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“Actually we are probably a little bit short on produce venders. We’ve got a lot of fruit but we haven’t had a big demand for vegetables,” said Jim Coalwell, manager of the market.

Coalwell estimated tourists comprise 80 percent of the customers.

Still, he hopes changes that allow for free one-hour parking will bring more locals to the market.

“Locals haven’t come here because of the parking, but when they learn about the one hour of free parking, they’re more likely to come.”

South Shore resident Donna Janaczek who spent Friday at the market says parking is what “keeps people away” or else drives locals to the Tuesday farmers market at the VFW parking lot.

“I mind paying such an expensive rate for parking,” said South Shore resident Sharon Skinner, who also spent Friday morning shopping at the market. I think it should be more reasonable for customers. If people resist parking here, they’re going to resist shopping.”

South Lake Tahoe resident Barbara Curtis said she’s grateful for the one free hour of parking and that she doesn’t “mind paying a little bit” for the good of the cause.

“What I think is that they should charge $1 an hour and a max of $12 a day,” she said.

After the first free hour, it costs $5 an hour.

Parking aside, Coalwell admitted he’s surprised his vendors are doing so well, considering he was urged by the Park Avenue association to pull five merchants selling more arts- and crafts-related items.

Lorilynn Haubrich, a South Lake Tahoe distributor of Exotic Hammocks, was asked to depart from the markets because she was told her merchandise competed with the Heavenly Village retailers.

She was disappointed.

The result – the markets near Stateline have more of the agricultural focus more common to Tuesdays at the American Legion Hall. Those markets have been dominated by a local clientele.

Coalwell, a fruit grower, heard many of the customers at Friday’s markets were buying snacks for the day’s activities.

Live music jazzes up the hotspot, adding to the village atmosphere.

Coalwell pulled the markets at the village last year when the vendors grumbled about paying for parking at the garage and substandard sales.

The vendors were forced to pay for parking in the garage for an event that would tie them up for five hours.

This year, Marriott Vacation Club has picked up the tab for the vendors.

“Momentum is really picking up,” Marriott Project Manager Darcy Mercer said.

– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com