In more than three years as manager of the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, Molly Notarianni has launched one expansion after another. She’s grown its customer base by accepting Bridge Cards. She’s expanded its vendor base by encouraging gourmet chocolate makers, commercial fishermen, and a pickle producer to set up in the 1930s-vintage stalls. She’s encouraged more vendors to stick it out in the winter months, more than doubling the number who sell no matter the temperature in January. And on June 1, she’s launching her largest expansion yet: a Wednesday evening market. She hopes the three-month pilot project will provide a venue for vendors crowded out of the current Saturday and Wednesday sales and serve customers who cannot come during the workday.
“The market needs to stay competitive as more farmers’ markets are starting–be dynamic and try things out,” says Notarianni. With her very curly black cascading hair and energetic, sparkling eyes, the manager radiates excitement about local food–both in person and in her market-day Tweets: “WOW! what a day!” she wrote in early May, “get here soon for asparagus, rhubarb, leeks, scallions, spinach, arugula … !” She enthuses about Sweet Gem chocolates, the Harvest Kitchen’s “lovely meals,” and Pilar’s Tamales.
“She’s very enthusiastic,” says Bruce Upston, of Wasem Fruit Farm. She’ll need all of that enthusiasm to persuade vendors and customers to change deeply rooted habits–the market dates back more than ninety years.
Notarianni started talking about extending hours a couple of years ago and says she believes there’s a huge interest among shoppers who don’t want to brave the crowds on Saturday and can’t make it in time to buy their spinach and apples during the day on Wednesdays. By mid- May, she had formal applications from twenty vendors, and verbal commitments from fourteen more.
A few old-timers wonder whether Notarianni is too focused on fancy food purveyors, who’ve lately occupied a growing share of the market’s stalls. The manager says she’s trying to add “diversity and breadth” and that she’d love to have more growers come. In the peak summer months there are already more growers who want to sell on Saturday than there’s space for, and every week she hears from three or four prospective new vendors. That’s one reason why she thinks the Wednesday evening market will catch on.
Notarianni says the evening market should bring in new revenue to the city with little additional cost apart from a couple of temporary workers to help out. For awhile, she will work fifteen-hour days on Wednesdays–arriving around 6 a.m. and staying until 9 or 9:30 p.m. when the evening market is done. But since she’s on salary at $41,000 annually, the extra hours required won’t add to the market or city budgets. And the Downtown Development Authority had already agreed to close the market parking lot for the entire day on Wednesday, so it won’t lose revenue with the evening experiment.
One big hurdle may be turnaround time: the daytime market winds down starting around 1:30 or 2, but it officially is open until 3 p.m., and the evening market will run from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Since evening vendors will need to set up fast, they’ll be assigned their stalls a week ahead of time, instead of waiting for an assignment as the less senior vendors must do on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. But Notarianni is optimistic the logistics can be worked out–“it can’t be crazier than Saturday,” she says.
Notarianni envisions a mix of old and new vendors at the evening market, including more prepared foods and food carts for people who want to pick up dinner after work. But she says she “definitely” wants it to be “a place where you can do your shopping–not just tiny boutique cupcakes and specialty foods.”