Kevin Riordan: Collingswood market closes for winter, leaving void

KEVIN RIORDAN / Staff
KEVIN RIORDAN / Staff
Posted: November 22, 2011

What a hurricane and a freak snowstorm couldn't do, the calendar finally accomplished.

On Saturday, the Collingswood Farmers Market closed - until next spring.

"It's been a great year," Bill Olbrich says at the Fruitwood Orchards stand.

"You like Asian pears?"

I chomp into one. If there's a Jersey freshness record, I swear it just got broken.

"We've got honey, too," Olbrich says.

Man, I'm gonna miss these Saturday mornings. And I'm not alone.

"We get thousands of people walking through on beautiful days," says advertising director Betsy Cook. "It's amazing."

One of three part-time borough employees who work for the market - which has an annual budget of about $50,000 - Cook helped get the operation up and running in 2000.

Back then, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture counted 35 farmers markets statewide. The number has more than quadrupled, to 148, as people embrace the bounty of the place they don't call the Garden State for nothing.

Despite a somewhat unlikely, even unlovely, location along downtown's PATCO viaduct, the Collingswood market has become a go-to place . . . for greens, gossip, and other ingredients essential to a community.

"This is where I catch up with my sons and my grandchildren," Haddonfield resident Bill Reynolds says.

"The people are great," says John Hurff, owner of Wm. Schober Sons Inc., a farm and orchard. "And they buy a lot of stuff."

Increasing interest in locally cultivated, healthy food (the market has frequent cooking demonstrations) has propelled the growth. Collingswood's coolness factor has surely helped as well.

Weather also is crucial. This year, most Saturdays were sunny. Even Hurricane Irene really didn't get rolling until after the market's scheduled noon closing, and the Oct. 30 snowstorm only cut the morning short by 45 minutes.

Rain or shine, the market's got a vibe. It's lively yet low-key, kid-friendly but eminently hospitable to grown-ups; and a rotating roster of rootsy musical performers helps set a tone.

"For us, the biggest thing is sitting and listening to music," says Amy Yenchick, taking in Dave Kelly's tasty guitar sounds with her 3-year-old daughter, Vivian.

"We like meeting other people of similar interests. It's the social aspect," adds Yenchick, a graphic artist for Philadelphia's Center City District who lives in the borough. "And the great apple-cider doughnuts."

"I've lived all over the country, and I've been to many other farmers markets, but there's something different here," says teacher and borough resident Rosemary Rys, a customer at the Cheese, Etc. stand.

On Haddon Avenue for eight years, the store opted a few weeks ago also to set up a stand with the market's two dozen vendors.

So far, so good, says owner Gina Horlacher, adding that Rys is "one of our favorite customers."

Rys returns the favor.

"These are awesome people," she says. "I come back as much to see them as I do for the products.

"It's almost like a family. There is that feeling, and you don't see it elsewhere. People come week after week whether or not they need anything."

David Hodges, the market's site director, says customers like buying food from the people who produce it.

He also credits the food itself.

Hodges might have added that the coffee isn't bad, either. Glenn Esher runs the Tortilla Press stand, the primary hot food and coffee purveyor.

A Haddon Township resident, he likes the camaraderie among vendors and the overall "convivial" feeling.

"I'm going to miss this a lot, actually," Esher says. "These are real relationships here. When it's over, it's kind of a sinking feeling."

"It's bittersweet," agrees Pat Kenny, owner of the Great Harvest Bread Co. store in Cherry Hill.

"But I won't miss getting up at 4 in the morning on Saturdays."

At least until May 5, 2012.

That's when the market reopens for its 13th season.


Kevin Riordan:

Chatting with vendors and customers at Collingswood's final farmers market of the year: www.philly.com/endofseason


Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at http://www.philly.com/blinq.

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