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French Market pulls record crowds
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Vendor Jenni Martin, right, helps customer Franchy Fenton choose some of her art at the French Market in Largo March 15.
LARGO – The success of the 12th annual French Market in Largo March 15 could be measured simply by the traffic jam around the location and the cars circling the parking lot, waiting for a spot to open up.

Julie Papalardo, who operates Julie’s Cottage of Provence on Indian Rocks Road in the Anona district, organizes the market every year. She was well aware of the crowds this year.

“This is the biggest by far,” she said. “The crowds have been great, they showed up early, and of course, it is a nice day for it.”

Papalardo said the market couldn’t get much bigger.

“We’ve maxed out the space,” she said. “I’m concerned that when people drive by they might not come in because of all the traffic, but that’s a good problem to have, isn’t it?”

Papalardo said this year she attracted 35 vendors, the most in the 12-year history of the event. One of those vendors was Jenni Martin who sold art pieces. She takes part in the market every year.

“This is a great event,” she said. “The organizers of this show are very professional, and they are always looking to add to it and improve it in any way they can.”

Martin said besides being good for the vendors, the market also is good for the community.

“It is a big deal. Many of the same people come year after year,” she said. “They get to know the sellers, and people stand around and chat. It is a good community event where people can get out and meet others. We’ll definitely be back. We just love it here.”

One of those people who come back year after year is Shelly Craddock of Seminole. She calls it an important event for the area.

“It is the only one around here,” she said. “It is good for people like us who collect things for our house. We always manage to find something. We’ll be back again for sure.”

Craddock’s husband Randy trailed behind carrying part of the day’s booty: a globe.

“We have three of these now,” he said. “I’m looking around here, and I notice it is getting bigger and bigger. All I can say is bring cash!”

Nearby, looking over some art, was Franchy Fenten. Visiting from Connecticut, she found the market because a friend knew about it. She was pleased.

“This is great. It is all about the community getting together,” she said. “Look around you, it is only 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and people are all over the place. There are amazing artists here. I like what I see. There are so many things that are homemade; this is so eclectic.”

Another shopper, Carmen Bender of St. Petersburg, is another one of those who come to the market every year. She likes what is different about it.

“They are so helpful here,” she said. “There is always somebody asking you if they can help. They even help you bring your things to the car.”

Bender also was pleased with the variety of things to see and buy.

“It is very unique here. There are so many things you can’t buy in stores,” she said. “There is a variety of jewelry and fresh flowers. It is all unique. I have come here many times and I’ll be back again for sure.”

Words like that are music to the ears of organizer Papalardo, looking again at the crowds of people arriving to browse and buy. She said of course she would do it again next year.

“As long as the people come and enjoy it, we’ll keep doing it,” she said.
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