Farmers markets grew through the recession like few other retail segments in New England.
In Rhode Island, for example, the handful of markets running in 2005 grew to 50 last year, making them a significant, if still small, part of the regional food-distribution system.
Is there more room to keep growing at this pace?
That question is being tested this summer with the launch of a new market on the East Side of Providence that will, for the first time, run head-to-head in the same neighborhood during the same day and time as an established market.
Organized by a Providence resident who volunteers at the Northwest Farmers Market in Glocester, the new Providence Alternative Farmers Market opens next month and intends to build on the success of the thriving Hope Street Farmers Market in Lippett Park.
“We were hearing from a number of venders that they couldn’t get into Lippett Park,” said Richard Suls, founder of the Providence Alternative Farmers Market. “As a longtime customer at Lippett Park, I realized it had reached an equilibrium and had as many venders and customers as the space and parking spots could handle.”
As evidence of demand for another East Side venue, Suls said he has already found takers for half of the 30 vendor spots planned for the Alternative Market, which will be located in the North Main Street parking lot owned by The Miriam Hospital that was once home to the Rhode Island Auditorium.
As retail operations go, farmers markets prioritize community over competition. Suls said his plan is to draw new customers who wouldn’t ordinarily shop at markets instead of taking any away from Hope Street.
Since farmers markets started proliferating in Rhode Island about a decade ago, organizers have gone out of their way to avoid direct competition and stealing each other’s customers.
But some overlap is inevitable given the physical proximity of the two markets and the fact that both will run on Saturday mornings, with the Alternative Market starting and ending one hour later (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) than Hope Street.