Welland Farmers Market vendors expect crowds to return when warm weather arrives
People battling the January blues might explain why the Welland Farmers Market is as quiet as it is.
That’s according to Rich Weiland of Fonthill-based Weiland Farms, the only open-air Saturday market vendor, who has served the community since 1907.
There are two buildings in the Market Square for the vendors inside. In one at the western end of the site, there are 13 counters for companies to sell their products. On Saturday, four were busy and there were five vendors set up in the east building.
Other sellers take vacations early in the year, and potential customers are likely recovering from vacation spending, or don’t want to bundle up in cold weather to visit on Saturdays as often as they do in warm weather.
“In March, everyone starts coming back,” Weiland said as customers stopped by her table to buy apples and apple cider.
“Things will start rolling again.”
His father Oscar started as a vendor at the Welland Market in 1957. Weiland said the town could explore a format similar to the weekly Thursday night market in Pelham, which in the summer features live music, a supper market, vendors and food trucks.
It draws around 2,000 people each week and Peace Park, where it is held, “doesn’t have the parking lot” that Welland’s Market Square has, he said.
“If it’s a tourist attraction, people will come,” he said, noting the success of his farm’s pick-your-own offering, which draws thousands of people from big cities each year. like Toronto.
Port Colborne resident Beate Voelkner has regularly made the short drive to Welland every two weeks for about 20 years. She is disappointed that a baker who sold old-fashioned fresh breads hasn’t returned since the pandemic, but said she still enjoys coming.
When asked if she thought there was a limited selection on Saturday, she said it was very different when the warm weather hits.
“Right now there is, but in the summer it’s pretty busy,” said Voelkner, who was standing in line to see Lyle (The Egg Man) Packham.
He’s been a familiar face for 50 years and his parents were salesmen in the Dunnville-based family business Packham Poultry long before he took over.
Packham said a handful of vacant booths in his building were due to other vendors taking leave. He expects most of them to return in the coming weeks.
“Once we get more vendors back, we’ll get more people back,” he said.
He said recent weekly turnout is “probably comparable, but maybe not as many people” to the average winter before the pandemic.
Packham also sees a lot of new families, people who have moved to Welland and are just getting to know the historic market.
Joanne Storz, owner of Visions of Chocolates, set up shop next to Packham on Saturday. She also said newcomers to the city and its market are apparent.
And the other hawkers who operate in the same building as her are not there in January and February because many have decided to take a break.
“Now is the time to do it because it’s a little slower,” she said.
Harish Patel of Vinnicki Farms in Niagara-on-the-Lake was the main source of fruits and vegetables on Saturday.
“It’s not great, but it’s getting better,” he said of weekly attendance, adding that it seems to be “recovering slowly, slowly.”
Tori Royer manages the market in her role as Recreation and Culture Coordinator for the City.
She said market days in January and early February see fewer crowds, but she expects a Valentine’s Day-themed event on February 11 to be a draw, as will a Winter Wonderland celebration on January 21.
She said the city is open to exploring new partnerships and ideas.
“We are always looking for additional opportunities.”
One possibility is to extend market opening hours to 1 p.m. instead of closing it at noon.
“In the summer, it’s a whole different ball game. At 5 a.m. the sun comes up and it’s already warm,” she said, noting that in the colder months there seem to be more crowds “from nine to noon.”
About 2,000 customers visit each Saturday in warm weather and around 750 to 1,000 stop when it’s colder, Royer said, adding that because the market square has “so many entry points” it’s difficult to keep an eye on visitors.
“To get a strict headcount, that’s hard to do.”
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