SUN CITY CENTER — Every market has its staples: vegetables, fruit, plants, bread.
Then come the extras — the items that draw people in and make the market unique.
"I bought some apple butter and natural milk sharp cheddar cheese," Lynn Bacon said excitedly, as she dug through a bag of new purchases. "This is my second trip. I have even more stuff in the car."
Finds like those led Bacon to the Fresh Market of Sun City Center on a recent Wednesday morning. Making its debut this season, the market joins several others in Hillsborough County that draw customers and help small businesses grow. Another market is set to open at the end of October in South Shore.
"I like it. There's a little bit of something for everyone here," Bacon said. "I'm hoping it will grow and get a little bigger."
The popularity of farmers and fresh markets seems to be growing, said Greg Barnhill, one of the organizers behind Tampa Bay Markets, the group responsible for markets in Hyde Park, Seminole Heights, Wesley Chapel and Sun City Center.
Other markets scattered throughout the county include Sweetwater Organic Farm and setups in downtown Tampa and Ybor City. Most operate on a weekly or once-a-month basis on different days so that vendors can hit multiple sites. Some are open year-round, but many only operate during the fall and winter seasons.
People are seeking those local, unique, handmade items, Barnhill said.
"Every person you talk to at a booth made the product they are selling," he said. "Customers get to make that connection with businesses and the items are not something you picked up at Walmart."
For Christy Gore of Seminole Heights, shopping at the neighborhood market is an event her family looks forward to each month.
"I like to support the things the neighborhood is doing," she said. "We love to go and eat, we buy the organic produce and local honey. We love the music."
There's also the social appeal of a neighborhood market.
"They are providing that opportunity to have families and neighbors outside enjoying the weather, food and music," Barnhill said.
Gore agrees. "It's a slice of our neighborhood," she said. "It's not just about shopping, it's about eating, it's about meeting your neighbors, its about all the cool stuff you see for sale."
Customers are not the only ones enjoying the benefits the markets have to offer.
With low overhead and easy access to buyers, the markets provide an opportunity for businesses to establish themselves in the community without taking on too much risk.
"It's a great way to get our name out there," said Brian Wachtler, of Brooklyn Knish bakery in Clearwater.
Knishes — round breads with meat, cheese and potato fillings — are more popular in the North. The outdoor markets, like the one Wachtler attends in Sun City Center, Hyde Park and others in the state help reach a crowd open to trying new things, he said.
"Not many people know about knishes," he said. "So selling them seems to be an education."
A neighborhood market can also be an ideal place to launch a new business, said Lynn Schultz, director of the Ybor City Saturday Market.
"Because of the current economy, so many people are turning their passion into products," Schultz said "They can go to the market to test their products before opening a shop."
That's just what Debbie Sabella of Tampa was doing recently at the Sun City Center market.
Under the name Island Time Tea, Sabella sold tea and scones filled with strawberry jam, complete with Devonshire cream.
"We just thought it might be a fun thing to do a couple of times a week," said Sabella, who works with her mother. The duo plans to set up a booth at the Seminole Heights market and the Tampa Downtown Market soon.
Many of the vendors sell their items at multiple markets, Barnhill said. Some drive from as far as Denton and Leesburg, he said.
At the end of the month, vendors will have yet another market to peddle their wares. The South Shore market opens Oct. 29 and 30 at the corner of U.S. 41 and Shell Point Road, Schultz said. After that, it will be open on the last Sunday of the month.
"It's filling a missing link in the South Shore area," Schultz said. "This is going to cater to a lot of the new developments that are coming to the area."
Whether it's the economy or something else, the trend doesn't seem to be slowing down, Barnhill said.
"People are hunkering down and wanting to support local businesses," he said. "The movement has been a little slow coming to Florida, but more and more the focus is on fresh and healthy."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.