Five years ago, the previous owner of the farmers market in downtown Fernandina Beach decided to relocate all the vendors to a spot at the Amelia Island Plantation. Without warning, vendors and customers alike were outraged at the sudden disappearance of booths on North Seventh Street that Labor Day weekend. Customers made it clear that they did not care to travel south to support the new location, and the growers and producers felt a sharp drop in business immediately.
A call from the city manager to local chiropractors Joe and Elizabeth Lee, who were requesting an ordinance change to open an outdoor market on their vacant lot at the corner of Lime and 14th Streets, was all it took for a franchise agreement with the City of Fernandina Beach to be created, bringing the farmers market back to historic downtown.
Market Manager Judie Mackie was already on board with the Lees for the new market, and her background in event coordination and marketing made changing the location and moving up the opening date a simple matter of logistics. At the Tuesday evening City Commissioner Meeting, commissioners approved the re-opening of the market by the Lees giving their team three days to secure vendors and spread the word. That Saturday morning, September 8, 2012, the Fernandina Beach Market Place farmers market officially opened with eight vendors and ten tents. Community support was astounding and that is still one of the busiest days vendors of the farmers market have seen!
While the dislocated business owners wanted to move their booths back to downtown, some had developed friendships with the previous owner and were skeptical about leaving the Plantation’s new market. Having already paid one month’s rent in advance, before the surprise relocation to the South End, many vendors felt they had no choice but to take a wait and see attitude for the first four weeks.
In the meantime, new vendors were contacted – some saying they had been on a waiting list for years – to join the family of exhibitors creating the new Market Place. Soon, a new waiting list in some product categories had to be started. As the market grew, customers continued requesting the return of some of the original vendors, and they were all contacted and asked to return downtown. As their sales steadily declined, the exodus began and week by week some of the vendors returned to the downtown market, where they belong.
There was a distinct change in atmosphere with the new Market Place, too. Different local musicians are now featured each week, there is a different “Booth With a Cause” who are offered a free booth space to share their mission with the community, traditional “brick and mortar” businesses within the city are encouraged to set up a promotional booth space, and well-behaved, leashed pets are now permitted in the farmers market. Our vendors, who were mere acquaintances, have now become friends with each other and you’ll hear laughter and see plenty of smiles at the Market Place. This is why I often call it, “Florida’s friendliest farmers market.”
The Fernandina Beach Market Place farmers market now has over 50 vendors offering an amazing selection of natural products, fresh seasonal produce and other clean food choices. The Lee’s original idea of a market with arts and craft booths is now held on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, when another 20-25 tents set up for the Fernandina Beach Arts Market right next door to the farmers market.
Fernandina Beach is a community like no other and we love to talk about why we love it here. We encourage our patrons to come for the morning and stick around. Take time to have lunch with your family in a downtown restaurant, pick up a pineapple or a News-Leader from Felix, shop our variety of downtown merchants, soak up the Victorian architecture and visit our distillery, library, or unique museums.
The family of vendors within the market find true pleasure doing business with the people in Fernandina Beach. We are immensely humbled to see the support they receive from our residents, tourists, family and friends. Many of our vendors have duplicate booths set up in other farmers markets, and by comparison, the loyalty of our Nassau County community that shows up, week-after-week-after-week, to support “their” local farmers market is stunning, and for that we are so very grateful! If it wasn’t for you, our customers, we would have no market.
If you have any questions, just come find me, Judie Mackie, at the farmers market. I’m there every Saturday. Both markets will be open this week, rain or shine, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The only time the market is not here is for the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival, “Always held the first weekend in May”, or if we are under a tropical storm warning or higher.