A longtime volunteer with the Portsmouth Partnership on a market that helps grow much more than fruits and veg—it grows a small business community.
BUSINESS INCUBATORS? The 30 or so vendors at the Portsmouth Farmers’ Market contend that they’ve got an unlikely-but-cool incubation space with a lower-tech vibe all its own: their market, held weekly thru December 19 at Court and High Streets in Olde Towne.
Strung along the old brick courtyard of the 1846 Courthouse (now known as the Portsmouth Art and Cultural Center) at the original city center, their stalls are truly the ultimate “temp space,” attracting visitors from Olde Towne, west of the river (Churchland, Western Branch and North Suffolk), and Norfolk, via the ferry. For many vendors, market revenue has funded their businesses’ growth into brick-and-mortar and online presences. For all of them, customers’ testimonials have provided the most credible advertising out there.
“I started my business at my home over 5 years ago as a hobby, but it never took off until I started exhibiting regularly at the Portsmouth Farmers’ Market,” says Ellen McClintock. Her Military Motifs business now sells pillows, throws, tote bags – even pet clothing – in local and North Carolina stores, veterinarians’ offices, and online.
“THE FLOWER LADY WOULD NOT EXIST without the Portsmouth Farmers’ Market,” says owner Robin Lindsey, who sells a wide range of flowers, balms, lotions and soaps.
A brick and mortar location was not an option for her fledgling business, but the market provided “a much less daunting platform for small businesses to sell from without the hassle of leases, loans, etc.” Moreover, “I’ve done it without social media or advertising outside of what Terry and Paul [Danaher] post on the website. Word of mouth in Portsmouth is the best advertising anyone could ask for!” And business growth? “The market went from sort of a hobby to a serious business. I have just leased three acres to keep up with flower demand just from Portsmouth.”
FAYE BAILEY BEGAN HER BAKED GOOD BUSINESS by offering just a few seasonal fruitcakes. Her offerings now include scones, cornbread, biscotti, granola and pies, and her fruitcake orders grow more each holiday season. Over the years, “the competition has increased but so did my relationship with my customer base. It continues to grow and I am grateful for all that the Market has done to make our respective work the success that it is.”
ARTISANS Bakery and Café and MANNINO’S Italian Bistro both have physical presences in Olde Towne, but participate regularly in the Market. “We want to show people what we have to offer just a couple of blocks up the street,” says Mannino’s’ House Manager Shaun Gavin. Likewise, when street and water pipe construction blocked easy access to their café, Artisans was happy to show their array of baked goods every week to remind customers that they were “still in the game.”
RETIRED TEACHER AUDREY “FRITZ” LASSITER’s jewelry-making business, “Glitz by Fritz,” expanded from her kitchen and dining room tables to a booth at the Farmers’ Market, but continued to grow. So, after a year at the market, she moved to a storefront, Little Shoppes on High, a small Olde Towne co-op. This fall, two years hence, she will move to a still larger co-op with 6 partners – including the Farmers’ Market – at 302 High Street. “Terry Danaher helped me get started in business, and I’m thrilled to share a brick and mortar location with like-minded people who are helping to make Portsmouth a better place to live,” she says.
INDEED, VOLUNTEERS TERRY AND PAUL DANAHER have nurtured the market since its move to Court Street in 2010, dealing with everything from VDAg compliance to vendor applications to website development. They can be seen moving through the crowds every Saturday (hint: Terry is the one with the clipboard).
PORTSMOUTH FARMERS’ MARKET VENDORS value the interactive boost that comes with their participation in the market, and they will tell you that the market has produced valuable relationships and ideas in addition to sales. Case in point: restaurant homeGrown, located directly across from the Market, has created “farm tables” using Farmers’ Market fare. And the sheer variety of items provided by the market’s woodworkers, crafters, vegetable growers, meat and seafood purveyors, bakers and others draws a variety of shoppers every Saturday, that helps everyone – including brick-and-mortar Olde Towne etablishments.
THE WEEKLY FARMERS’ MARKET, along with the First Friday Courtyard Concert series at the Portsmouth Art and Cultural Center, is the creation of the Portsmouth Partnership, a volunteer business development organization that has been around since 1948. The partnership’s volunteers have produced everything from an Enterprise Zone to a Historic District designation for Olde Towne businesses to a citizenship course (the Lefcoe Leadership Foundation, with nearly 450 graduates) to Portsmouth’s OpSail2012Virginia and more.