Last February, an average of eighteen sellers showed up each week at the public market on Fourth Avenue–compared to an average of ten or eleven in the previous two Februaries. Manager Molly Notarianni thinks the totals will be even higher this winter, in part because of the tough economy.

Vendors put up with blowing winds, frigid temperatures, and fewer customers as the price of a year-round, open-air market. Still, attendance varies hugely depending on the weather. Alex Nemeth, who’s sold apples and cider for decades, remembers one “real snowy day” about eight years ago when he was the only seller who made it in–“the market manager didn’t even come down.” Yet by 10 a.m., some customers showed up and bought cider. “Some people said, ‘We really don’t need the cider but we’re going to buy it out of pity for you,'” he recalls.

“We try to make the best of a cold winter’s day,” says Nemeth. Several vendors organize hot meals in the market office–“mostly there’s stew and chili.” He likes to bring hot dogs and sauerkraut with onions and horseradish.

“The more business we have, the warmer we stay,” says Jan (Wasem) Upston, who with her husband Bruce sells apples, cider, and jam most of the winter for Wasem Fruit Farm. Three years ago, they bought a tent to cut the wind and hold in some of the warmth from their propane heaters.

About two-thirds of the hard-core vendors have some source of heat, but no one is immune to the cold–“jumping around is common,” Notarianni says. Winter regulars also include Kapnick Orchards, artisan Debbie Marx, Roos Roast Coffee, furniture maker Coleman Jewett, Hannewald Lamb, TMZ beef and buffalo, Our Family Farm, and Brines Farm, whose owner has a hoop house to grow greens all winter.

Customers who show up in winter get more personal service and find vendors have more time to chat than during the madhouse summer months. And, unlike summer, parking is easy.