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Saturday Morning Market in St. Petersburg won't operate this summer

ST. PETERSBURG

Consumers of fresh local produce, art and live music will have to look beyond downtown this summer.

Saturday Morning Market officials, who tested a summer market in 2009 in the Mahaffey Theater parking garage, have decided increased heat and decreased revenue make a second season unfavorable. The final market day this season will be May 29.

"It wasn't supporting itself," said Gail Eggeman, manager of the market and a steering committee member. "(It) only makes money by market fees collected from vendors, so as the market shrunk, and because it was hot or with people going on vacation, the whole plan for the summer market paying for itself went down the tubes."

The summer market featured spaces for 72 vendors, down from 135 during the fall and winter market held in the parking lot of nearby Progress Energy Park. Because of the fallow season for many growers, it meant more crafts and less fresh produce was available.

Still, stalwarts like Habana Café showed up each week. The Gulfport restaurant began unloading its trailer at 5 a.m. on Saturdays in preparation for serving up cafe con leche and its signature roast pork.

"I know we're upset that there's no summer market," owner and chef Jo Gonzalez said. "Obviously, it's a great advertising tool for very little money."

Gonzalez's husband, David Hastings, who with two employees worked the market, is left to explore other possibilities such as the St. Pete Beach market on Corey Avenue. He figured business dropped 50 percent last summer from the regular market.

"Maybe our expectations were not as high as others," he said. "From a vendor's standpoint, there must have been vendors who were disappointed in the summer market."

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Others are just trying to cope with the revenue loss. Among them is Lizzy Lenk, whose Bag It booth offers eco-friendly nonplastic bags and African baskets. She said she covered her costs and paid bills last summer.

Lenk is looking forward to more time off to visit her mother in Argentina and is trying to generate income through an online store.

"I regret they're not going to do the summer market this year," she said. "I can take three months off and tighten my belt. It won't be the end of the world."

Another vendor, the Mitch Armstrong Nursery, will design a retail spot at its Palmetto location this summer. Partner Annie Sprague, a former operations manager for the Saturday Morning Market, said the nursery focuses on botanical shows and weekend markets.

Finding a new location for a successful summer market in St. Petersburg remains a goal. Eggeman had investigated the Coliseum as an option for this summer, but she said the $2,500 weekly rent was unreasonable.

Sprague said an indoor location nearby would be the best choice for the market in 2011.

"Ideally, I'd like to find something along the Fourth Street (North) corridor," she said. It's a real opportunity, a lot of traffic going up and down."

Saturday Morning Market in St. Petersburg won't operate this summer 05/11/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 3:09pm]
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