Residents, town and university workers can now share in the bounty of a 15-year drive to bring a farmers market downtown.
“I love garlic. It is the bomb dot com,” said town employee Faith Thompson, who shopped at the Wild Dog farm table on her lunch break during the the first weekly pop-up market on the 140 West Plaza July 23.
“I couldn’t pass it up,” she said. “It’s downtown. It’s a great day for it. I got to see all these wonderful people. We tried everything.”
The Thursday market’s debut attracted several dozen shoppers. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt rang the market’s opening bell so enthusiastically that the clanger flew across the sidewalk as he threw up his hands in celebration.
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“What’s so great, I think, about it is these are all local entrepreneurs, and we’re facilitating a space for them to do their business,” Kleinschmidt said. “Of course, it helps them, but then it adds to the quality of life” for people living and working downtown.
140 West restaurants Old Chicago and Lime Fresh Mexican Grill have joined the effort, he and others said.
“We didn’t know for sure how everybody here was going to respond,” Kleinschmidt said. “Turns out, it’s the greatest thing. They’ve embraced it, and they have been looking forward to it.”
Old Chicago fed the vendors Thursday, giving them gift cards worth 25 percent off lunch at the restaurant to share with their customers. Lime is letting kids eat lunch for free every market Thursday. The market runs through Sept. 10.
The vendors – many market regulars – said the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market at University Place (formerly University Mall) is a little busier, but they expect downtown to catch up, especially when students return.
“A lot of folks are coming directly to us or somebody else, knowing what we already have,” said Randy Thompson, with T5 Farms in Snow Camp. “It seems like everybody is excited about it.”
An eight-week review will decide the market’s future, said Meg McGurk, Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership executive director. She was toting chocolate cake and coffee to take back to the office, just around the corner on West Rosemary Street.
“We are very excited to be able to partner with the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market and the town of Chapel Hill to bring this to downtown,” McGurk said. “It’s something that we’ve heard repeatedly from the community, that they want a farmer’s market downtown.”
Rose Bynum, whose family owns a condo at 140 West, stopped by to pick up some peaches on her way out of town.
“I thought it would be a little bit bigger, but I think for a start, I like the atmosphere,” she said. “It’d be nice to see some more arts and stuff, as well as food, but I like it.”
Future markets will includemore vendors, including craftspeople, market manager Katie Underhill said.
Rickie White, who runs Waterdog Farms with his partner Christopher Fipps, said the market idea came up during talks about where to permanently locate the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market. They want to keep the enthusiasm going for the next eight weeks, he said.
“I just walked around and talked to a bunch of vendors, and everyone had really positive things to say about it; the customers seemed to like it,” White said. “We’re hoping some of the restaurants will be interested, too.”
If you go
The pop-up Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market runs from noon to 2 p.m. every Thursday through Sept. 10 at the 140 West Franklin Street plaza. Parking is available in the 140 West garage; the entrance is on West Rosemary Street.