Jennifer McCafferty is bringing the weekly Sunset Market to Largo Central Park starting Friday, Sept. 5, and continuing through May.
LARGO – A new weekly produce market will open in Largo Central Park next month. Sunset Market will debut Friday, Sept. 5, 3 to 7 p.m., in parking lot No. 1, at southwest corner of East Bay and Central Park drives.
A ribbon cutting will take place at 2:30 p.m.
Every Friday through May, vendors will offer vegetables, fruits, raw local honey, herbal teas and wild-caught seafood as well as organic body products, essential oils, arts and crafts.
The new market will be run by Jennifer McCafferty of Ruskin, an entrepreneur who first organized a market in Sun City Center last year as a side activity to her promotional products business. Her business, Jen’s Market Place, has grown to encompass markets in Apollo Beach and the nearby community of Waterset as well an upcoming market in Bradenton.
“The next thing you know, ‘Well, we’re going to Largo!’ ” McCafferty said. “Our dance card’s full for a while. That’s eight markets a month.”
The residents of Largo have been asking for a fresh produce market on the city’s last several Community Values survey. Last year, local artist Tanya Pistillo organized the monthly Ulmer Park Market. A produce vendor selling from Ulmer Park, who also was working with McCafferty at one of her markets, told McCafferty what a great location Ulmer Park was.
McCafferty came to check it out and determined that Ulmer Park was too small for her operation. She contacted Largo officials to find out about renting a different space to start her own market.
“I told them, ‘I’m self-contained. Really, you don’t have to do anything except provide us the space.’ They were ecstatic,” McCafferty said.
Operating a market is a unique managerial enterprise, McCafferty said. Her husband Dan partially came out of retirement to help his wife.
“It’s hard work. We set up tents. We walk the market. We’re very visible on site,” said Jennifer, adding that the effort is worth it. “We have a ball.”
McCafferty has a vendor list of about 160 small businesses she’s worked with, some of whom travel from Bradenton, Sarasota or Kissimmee to participate in different markets. She’s hoping to start Sunset Market with 30 to 40 different vendors.
The focus will be on produce and organic products. McCafferty strives for a 60-40 ratio with the majority of her vendors selling produce or organics and only 40 percent of the market dedicated to art and craft vendors.
The market will offer several ways for commercial business to advertise as well as two free spaces per market reserved for nonprofit entities. McCafferty said the nonprofit spaces aren’t for religious or political organizations and must be approved by the city.
Each quarter, McCafferty donates a portion of her proceeds to a local nonprofit. Her operation is a for-profit business, but she makes very little off the markets themselves.
“It’s a community service in so many ways. I still maintain my main business. That has allowed me to grow (the markets),” she said. “Now this is starting to make enough money to fund itself.”
Aside from the physical work, McCafferty pays for insurance, banners and posters as well as things like picnic tables she needs to set up the market. The city of Largo is helping by posting advertising in the community centers and advertising the market on the Largo Central Park marquee. And McCafferty joined the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce.
“Everyone’s been very, very supportive,” she said.
The experience of meeting the different vendors who travel and sell their wares at community markets has been an interesting one for the McCaffertys. Many have stories like Jennifer, who had to come with a new plan after she lost her corporate job working for a top promotional products company.
“There’s so many people who had to reinvent themselves from when everything went upsy-daisy,” she said. “We’re not all real young people anymore.”
Dan said he has been surprised by many of the vendors’ stories. An 86-year-old man who used to be a lion tamer for a circus in London has been traveling the market circuit for 54 years. A teacher with two master’s degrees recently returned with her husband from a summer trip through Ecuadorian villages to collect the jewelry she sells. A master beekeeper brings some of his bees when the weather’s good and teaches honey customers everything they might want to know about bees.
“A lot of these people choose to do this for a living. And they’re highly educated and well traveled,” Dan said.
There’s no entry fee for the pet-friendly Sunset Market and parking will be free.
For her part, Pistillo ran into parking difficulties on West Bay Drive as the Ulmer Park Market grew.
“We lost a lot of customers because people couldn’t figure out where to park,” she said.
Hosting the market at a city park also became a conflict of interest when she began to work as a parks division employee. For the last market before the summer, Pistillo moved the operation to Our Savior Lutheran Church at 4825 E. Bay Drive.
The Saturday market will start up again in October on Saturday, Oct. 11, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The church offers more space and lots more parking, Pistillo said.
“I think, all-in-all, it’s working out for the betterment of everyone, vendors included,” she said.
So far this year, 24 vendors have confirmed their participation in the first Saturday market of the season. Pistillo also said the market will feature live music from local artists.
The two East Bay Drive markets, at opposite ends of Largo, will complement each other. Pistillo said she planned to participate in the Sunset Market, especially on the Friday before her own market.
“We’re going to do some things to help each other out,” she said.