VINELAND - Jack and Mark Baer, father and son, became the Landis MarketPlace's first customers at 9 a.m. Thursday, when they walked in through the Landis Avenue entrance on a mission to get something special from the bakery. Doughnuts, breads and other baked goods were already filling the air with yummy smells.
"Where's the shoo-fly pies?" Jack Baer asked.
Thursday's opening of the $3.4 million Landis MarketPlace was what local officials said is another part of the downtown business district's revival. Combined with the opening of the Landis Theater about a year ago and a developing "restaurant row," city and business officials say the Landis MarketPlace is a vital part of turning downtown Landis Avenue into a dining and entertainment destination.
Mayor Robert Romano, one of the first people in the facility Thursday, said exactly what the marketplace means to the city.
"Dollars and cents, and foot traffic on Landis Avenue. That's the two big things we need for Landis Avenue," he said.
Operators, who could not estimate what annual revenue the market would generate, were surprised at just how many people went through the Amish Market, the first part of the Landis MarketPlace to open. Landis MarketPlace Manager Gary Holloway said while he had not known exactly know how many people to expect on opening day, the number of customers who did surprised him.
"It's terrific," Holloway said. "I just want to thank the community for showing up and giving us their support."
Landis MarketPlace's Amish Market involves nine vendors occupying the lower level of a 30,000-square-foot building that years ago housed the J.J. Newberry department store. The upper level, which will open gradually later this year, will have specialty vendors that, as of now, will include a florist and a Tupperware vendor. It is owned by Vineland Development Corp. and operated by Landis MarketPlace Urban Renewal LLC.
The facility's primary marketing area extends to places such as Cape May Court House in Cape May County, Mays Landing in Atlantic County and Woodstown in Salem County.
The majority of the Amish Market vendors, who refused interviews, are from Lancaster County, Pa. They will commute daily between their Pennsylvania homes and Vineland. Some arrive to start baking at 3 a.m.
The interior of the Amish Market was certainly different than it was Wednesday, when city inspectors were busy making final checks before granting the approvals necessary for the market to open Thursday.
While the market was bare inside Wednesday, customers arrived on Thursday to find shelves filled with apples, watermelons, squash and tomatoes, counters lined with peach pies, doughnuts and apple dumplings, and refrigerator units showcasing sausages, chicken, salads, steaks and pigs feet.
While the majority of people who were buying those goods Thursday were local residents, people from other communities were also spending money at the market.
Vincent Whelan, who lives in the Fairton section of Fairfield Township, said he made the trip to Landis MarketPlace because he wants to support the endeavor.
"We thought this is a pretty good thing," he said.
Customer response was positive.
"This is really nice," said Jack Baer, who lives in Vineland with his son. "I always went to (the farm market in Williamstown, Gloucester County), but this is much easier."
The Baers left the market at about 9:30 a.m. carrying bags of fruits and vegetables, a box of baked goods - and a shoo-fly pie.
Local residents Bob and Valerie Williams said they were also impressed. Valerie Williams said the prices were also good.
"For what you get, it's quality stuff," she said.
Opening day even drew Evelyn Roberts, a self-proclaimed farmers market junkie from Princeton.
"It's clean," she said. "The prices are fair and the meats look great. Everybody here seems to be having a good time. This is the reason I love to come to places like this."
So, apparently, do other New Jersey residents.
The number of farmers markets in the state increased by 158 percent - from 40 to 103 - from 2000 to 2006, a study released in 2009 by the Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton shows. The number may have increased to about 130 by 2009, study officials estimate. The report states that the growth rate for farmers markets in New Jersey far exceeds the 53 percent national average.
Though the Rutgers report is several years old, it still serves as one of the most comprehensive and most recent studies on the topic.
Among its other findings are that farmers can:
- Earn higher profits by selling their goods at farmers markets instead of through regular wholesale channels.
- Diversify their markets and better control risk.
- Depend on regular customers. The study shows that about 90 percent of customers who use farmers markets are repeat purchasers.
The study also shows something else that's linked to the city's efforts to re-energize its downtown:
- Increased interest in community building as residents come together on a regular basis around a recurring, shared and appealing experience.
- Revitalization efforts and redevelopment programs are infused with new life and meaning.
Officials with other farmers markets in the state agree with the findings.
Founded in 1940, The Berlin Farmers Market in Camden County is one of the oldest and largest farmers markets in southern New Jersey.
Market spokeswoman Susan Notaro said the facility - which has about 80 indoor vendors and an outdoor flea market with about 700 vendors - draws customers from throughout southern New Jersey, the Philadelphia region and northern Delaware.
"Normally, on a sunny day - especially in the spring or autumn - it draws thousands of people from throughout the area," she said. "It's a fun experience for them. It's like a family day out."
Notaro said the Berlin Farmers Market attracts what she calls repeat, "generational-type" customers looking for quality foods and services, such as shoemakers, that are hard to find in many areas.
When told about the opening of the Landis MarketPlace, Notaro said, "Looks like we have competition. We draw a lot of people from there."
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