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Gulfport Tuesday Fresh Market turns 7; coordinator Daniel Hodge explains its success

About eight years ago, Daniel Hodge moved from San Francisco to Gulfport to be closer to his mother in St. Petersburg. And it's a move he's glad he made. "Gulfport has proven to be the best home I could hope for. It has a progressive, artistic-funky, good-natured spirit that inspires me. The people here are friendly and fantastic," he said. Hodge, 53, was born and raised in Louisville. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in library science, both from the University of Kentucky. He worked as a librarian for much of his career and now spends his time DJing — every Thursday at the Peninsula Inn on Beach Boulevard — as well as doing some creative writing, news release writing and promotions. And, of course, coordinating the Gulfport Tuesday Fresh Market. We recently caught up with him to ask him some questions about the market that is so near and dear to him.

Patti Ewald, Times staff writer

1 WHEN AND HOW WAS THE TUESDAY FRESH MARKET BORN? The Gulfport Tuesday Fresh Market got started seven years ago this month. The Gulfport Merchants Association already had events to draw people here — like the first Friday and third Saturday Art Walks and the annual Gecko Fest and Get Rescued — but it was looking for something to draw visitors every week. From the beginning, the market has been a year-round event so it's not just to attract visitors. It's also a community service for locals. It started with a handful of vendors, including Kilpatrick's Produce and some others that are still here today. Tuesdays were chosen in order not to compete with other markets.

2 WHAT MADE YOU PUT YOUR ENERGIES INTO THE FRESH MARKET? My love of Gulfport carries over in what I do for the Fresh Market. It's driven by a sincere pride in Gulfport and a passion for wanting to give my best to this wonderful little town.

3 WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR GREATEST SUCCESS WITH THE MARKET? Our greatest success with the market is … the success of the market. It has grown — in both sellers and buyers — exponentially over the last few years. We now have more than 50 vendors on a typical day (a few less during the summer) and 2,000 to 3,000 visitors in season. We work as a team to achieve our success and that results in a spirit of camaraderie and a positive energy you can feel on the street.

4 HOW HAS IT CHANGED SINCE IT BEGAN? The growth is the most outstanding change. We are now recognized as one of the best fresh markets in our region. The quality of our vendors is better than ever. We have also added extra dimensions such as our successful monthly clothing swap in which people bring and exchange gently used clothing. All extra clothing and proceeds go to Community Action Stops Abuse. We also collect nonperishable food and toiletries for our local Senior Center pantry and we give a free space each week to community nonprofit groups. I'm happy to say that the Gulfport Tuesday Fresh Market was recognized as both the Voter's Choice and the Judge's Choice as the local business with the "Most Community Spirit" last year by localshops1.com, Tampa Bay's advocate for the "Shop Local" movement.

5 PLEASE TELL US A FUNNY OR TOUCHING STORY ABOUT THE MARKET. We always have live music at the market, and one Tuesday it was Jimbo Talbot, a local musician — drummer — and a kind and generous guy who's a friend of mine. He was playing one Tuesday when a group of kids who were walking by stopped to listen. They were fascinated so he gave them some percussion instruments and asked them to sit and play with him. It was a magic moment in the midst of the vegetables and the seafood vendors to see these kids laughing, singing and making music, entertaining themselves and everyone who stopped to watch. It really captured the creative and positive energy of Gulfport and the market.

Gulfport Tuesday Fresh Market turns 7; coordinator Daniel Hodge explains its success 02/26/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 5:05pm]
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