HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — The horses may be gone, but crowds still flocked to the Atlantic City Race Track in Mays Landing on Saturday for the grand opening of the new open-air Mercato Market.
Standing amid the crowd of hundreds, Galloway Township resident Jim Rosen had one thought: Why didn’t he think of it first?
“I’ve been reading about it for awhile, and it’s smart,” he said. “Shame we didn’t think of the idea.”
The market is the work of Galloway Township residents Dina Guzzardo and Dirk DaCosta, who have worked the last two years to make it a reality. While the event is billed as a flea market, it offers more than bargains. Saturday’s grand opening included live entertainment, such as former Flock of Seagulls member Eddie Berner. Bagpipe players, a marching band and a magician roamed the grounds, and a group of acrobats performed beside the stage.
The market creators are proud of their lineup of food trucks, too, which Saturday included Atlantic City’s Tony Boloney’s and Scales restaurant and the locally-owned Empanada Mamas and more than a dozen others.
But its main draw is the vendors. DaCosta said 300 to 400 vendors attended the first day, hawking everything from clothes and jewelry to artisan foods. The track has room for more than 600 vendors, so DaCosta expects more will rent spaces as word spreads.
Gary Schempp, owner of Cape May Court House-based Busy Bees NJ, sold his homemade honey products from his booth Saturday. He had been tracking the market’s progress since he first heard about it February.
“This is a little bit more than we expected, and if it grows from here, we’ll be very happy,” he said. “There’s good foot traffic.”
Despite its success, Mercato Market’s opening had snags. The market is free to enter but, at first, cost $3 to park. This fee was scrapped after it drew customer complaints. Guzzardo said she plans to implement an at-will donation. Saturday’s proceeds will go to anti-hunger group No Kid Hungry, she said.
The main act will change each week. A Frank Sinatra tribute group is set to take the stage next weekend. The management also plans to incorporate a different theme each weekend, starting with an Italian Festival next week. Themes will include Mardi Gras in May and Luau-Palooza.
“It’s just, an outdoor destination,” Guzzardo said. “When you come here, you never know what you’ll find.”
Mercato Market will be open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekend through December. For details, visit mercatomarket.com.
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