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Growing Concern - Some Marin Farmers Market vendors say the economy is slowing business

Some vendors notice downturn at farmers market, but it's a mixed bag

Leon Day, who sells condiments at the Marin County Farmers Market in San Rafael, says sales of sauces, marinades and chutneys are down 30 to 40 percent. Other vendors say sales are brisk despite the economic downturn. (IJ photo/Frankie Frost

Nels Johnson
Marin IJ

It was business as usual Thursday at the Marin County Farmers Market - or was it?

While some vendors said they have not noticed any dip in sales, and a market executive asserted the popular market is as robust as ever, others indicated economic doldrums sweeping the nation have come home to roost.

"It's slowed lots," said Brenda Avalos of Turlock, who has sold nuts, yams and other produce at the market for eight years. "We don't see as many people as before," she said. "Sunday, the best market, has slowed down, too."

Vendor Enrique Moreno (left) says business is the slowest I ve ever seen it. (IJ photo/Frankie Frost)

Enrique Moreno, a nine-year veteran of the Cypress Flower Farm stand, called business "the slowest I've sever seen it." Moreno, speaking with the help of an interpreter, estimated that flower sales were down 25 percent in the past two months.

At the Roli Roti chicken stand, chef John Njane said sales are off by about 20 chickens a day. "It's not as good as it used to be," although regular customers keep coming back for more, he said.

The story was the same across the aisle, where Leon Day of San Rafael, owner of Leon Day's Condiments, said sales of his 120 varieties of sauces, marinades and chutneys are down 30 to 40 percent. Day, a one-time driver for Grateful Dead rocker Jerry Garcia, said the slump is not surprising in light of economic turmoil. "I mean, I'm in the luxury department," Day said, offering taste tests of his exotic concoctions.

Several other vendors who participated in an informal survey said their sales remain brisk.

"We're selling as fast as we can pick it," said Tom Dieckman of Yuba City, flanked by piles of pumpkin, squash and broccoli as a customer peeled off $2 to buy a head of cabbage picked hours earlier.

"We have not noticed a slowdown," said Kathleen deWilbur of Aidells Sausage Co. "Thursday's market is always quieter than Sunday's."

At the Spring Hill Cheese booth, Sandra Chisham doled out samples of the Petaluma company's organic fare, not far from where Larry Sigmund sold honey. Both said business was good, even though Sigmund noted that at $16 a pint, honey prices are rising because bees are in short supply.

Brigitte Moran, executive director of the market, said the market remains in good shape "because local people are supporting local growers," including restaurateurs who buy in bulk from market farmers.

Grocery store prices are rising but "ours are remaining the same," she said, adding that on Sundays, "what I hear from the vendors is they've never done better."

Thursday's market was an oddity, Moran said, with fewer customers than usual. "I walked in and said, 'Where the hell are all the people?'"

Customer Kristy Lund of Novato said that while she is cutting down on spending on "things that are not needed, especially things made outside the country," she is still shopping at the farmers market. "I'm trying to spend more in my own community," the 34-year-old said.

But Bill Ambrosia of San Rafael, a 66-year-old retiree, said that he's cutting back everywhere, including the farmers market.

"My wife and I have both reduced our purchases by about 30 percent," he said. "I'm looking for the cleanest food, the best value."

And that, Moran asserted, is what the farmers market is all about.

Contact Nels Johnson via e-mail at ij.civiccenter@gmail.com