The return of outdoor shopping, snacking and strolling in the fall air is welcome, as outdoor markets kick off this weekend in downtown St. Petersburg and in St. Pete Beach along Corey Avenue.
St. Petersburg's Saturday Morning Market will begin its ninth season Saturday with hours from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the parking lot of Progress Energy Park, home of Al Lang Field. The Corey Sunday Morning Market enters its third season the next day, open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Saturday Morning Market director Mark Johnson is proud of how the community concept and spirit have grown over the years.
"It's probably in the top 20 of 6,000 markets in the U.S. right now," he said. "We receive dozens of applications from new, interested vendors per month. This is the premier vending location in Central Florida. Getting in is very competitive and our standard is very high."
His venture boasts 200 vendors who rotate through 130 spaces. Many are full time, others offer their wares just half the time during the season that ends the last weekend in May. Yet others, mostly craft vendors, rent booth space for just a handful of Saturdays.
Johnson is happy to see that the market continues to grow with the number of farmers on the rise though he says it's incredibly challenging to get them to come since small farmers are a shrinking minority in Florida.
One vendor coming for the first time this year with a notable product is a grass-fed beef producer from a farm in the Panhandle. Another new vendor will be selling French specialties such as pates and jams, another will have classic New York style, barrel-cured pickles, and yet another will have organic, low fat, specialty sausages.
Two-thirds of the market is green (plants, produce, flowers and food) and one-third is crafts.
There's always a musical act from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. On opening day this year, the smooth harmonies and primal rhythms of the Urban Gypsies will fill the air. One of the market's goals this year, Johnson said, is to increase participation from local performing arts groups and schools, especially to fill the showtime between 9 and 10 am.
"Some people who come to Saturday Morning Market say that it's the most significant improvement to the quality of life in St. Petersburg ever," Johnson said. "People drive here regularly from Lakeland, New Port Richey and Punta Gorda."
This weekend's opening of Saturday Morning Market is also when the 12th annual Susan G. Komen Florida Suncoast Race for the Cure takes place. The charity event brings about 10,000 people downtown from about 7 to 10 a.m. Shoppers are advised to plan their day and parking accordingly. The BayWalk parking garage is always a good option; it's a two-block walk to the market and it's only $1 if it's not a special event day.
… and a choice on Sundays
For those who want to stretch their open air market experience through the weekend, the Corey Sunday Morning Market will begin its third season on Sunday.
This fresh, green market was put together by the Suntan Art Center and the Corey Area Business Association to bring people together in St. Pete Beach.
"Markets (like this) are all about community, creating a sense of belonging and having a place where people can come together and celebrate how great it is here; I mean we're in paradise. It doesn't get better," said market manager David Cellon.
Cellon is also office manager of the Suntan Art Center and a former manager of the Saturday Morning Market.
The Corey Sunday Market will have 25 to 35 vendors each week along Corey Avenue from Boca Ciega Drive to Blind Pass Road. Half of the vendors will be local artists and merchants and the other half are green.
"We are trying to grow the market but are currently limited to one block of Corey Avenue, which can hold about 40 vendors," Cellon said. "Once we get filled, we will explore options to expand. I am less concerned about growing fast than growing the quality of our vendors and their products."
Vendors park at City Hall, so parking for patrons is available all around Corey Avenue.
Business district shops are open on Sundays and Cellon encourages people to visit St. Pete Beach to spend the day: shop, eat, have a mimosa, maybe take in a movie at the end of the day at the nostalgic Beach Theatre.
Local blues musician Charlie Morris will play opening day this year with a variety of musical acts to follow through the season, which ends in May.
For information on the markets, check out their respective websites at saturdaymorningmarket.com and suntanart.org.