Market organizer Pat Fernandez, left, chats with vendor Bobbie Boyer at her booth that sells treats for pets.
CLEARWATER – The weather made it difficult to judge how successful Clearwater’s first-ever evening market will be, but if local opinion counts, then it should be around for a while.
The market’s first evening was on Jan. 4, and it takes up the entire 500 block of Cleveland Street downtown. It was a soggy, misty, foggy evening right from the beginning at 4 until it closed at 8. At any given moment, the vendors outnumbered customers, but all were hopeful.
Kaliope Mastrostrovasils, a vendor from Danny K’s restaurant in Tarpon Springs was cutting up vegetables for her Greek food offerings. She said she really didn’t know how the market would turn out.
“This is the first week so we’ll have to wait and see,” she said. “The weather is very bad tonight, but I’m going to stay and I’m going to come back. We’ll just have to see what is going to happen.”
The evening market, which will be held on the first Friday of every month, is admittedly a pilot project, according to organizer Pat Fernandez.
“For this year at least, it is a pilot program,” she said. “We didn’t ask for additional funding, there is no music for right now and we have had very little advertising, but we think it is a good idea. Mind you just because I think it is a good idea, doesn’t mean it is.”
Fernandez is the founder of the main Clearwater Market, which is held each Wednesday. She said 18 years ago, then-Mayor Rita Garvey asked her what could be done to attract more people to downtown. She replied that a farmer’s market might do the trick.
“The next thing I knew Mayor Garvey was introducing me as the person in charge of establishing the market,” Fernandez said. “I’ve been involved ever since.”
Fernandez said the idea of the evening market was to get more families involved.
“Our Wednesday market is on during the daytime, and for the last two years or so, people have been asking for a different time,” she said. “They were saying, ‘my husband can’t go because he’s working, my wife can’t go because she’s busy, the kids are in school,’ and so on. By having the market from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. gives everybody a chance to participate.”
Fernandez hopes to have about 15 vendors participating in the evening market, roughly half the number who show up regularly at the weekly Wednesday market.
“We have some of the same vendors, but we want different ones, we want to create a whole new atmosphere,” she said.
One upbeat vendor was clearly happy with the new atmosphere. Bonnie Boyer of Two Girls and a Beagle makes treats for dogs, cats and birds. She says she has done plenty of research and her treats can actually treat certain animal ailments such as stomach upsets and bad breath. She is delighted with what she saw on the inaugural evening.
“I love this market, I’ll be back,” she said. “This is a beautiful setting and I know more people will come. Having it on Friday evening is good, it gives people something to do and it gives them a chance to shop local and shop small.”
Clearwater resident Charlie Legge was wandering through the market. He said he believes it is a good idea to bring new life to downtown Clearwater.
“This place is a ghost town in the evenings,” Legge said. “I’m sick of having to go to St. Pete for some fun on a Friday evening. I think this is good; anything that brings more business to downtown is good. We also could use some bars to liven things up and some more restaurants; there aren’t many places to eat down here.”
Nearby vendor Bill Staunko was manning his hummus and Middle Eastern specialty booth. He likes the market idea because it brings people together.
“Anytime you have a place for the community to gather it is a good thing,” Staunko said. “I come here on Wednesdays and we’re happy with that, but of course I always think things will get better.” He, like the others, blames the low turnout on the weather.
Organizer Fernandez agreed the weather was an obstacle for opening night but she said it was more than that.
“We just got the go-ahead from the city two days ago so we had very little advertising,” Fernandez said. “But I’m delighted that we did get permission to do this. Our primary purpose is to bring people downtown, encourage them to shop and have dinner down here. It will be interesting to see how many people show up as we move along.”
The market will continue on the first Friday of every month through May. No doubt its future after that depends on how many people show up each week.