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Main Spotlight: Farmers Markets as a Transformation Strategy for Main Streets

August 9, 2022 | Main Spotlight: How Farmers Markets Can Activate Main Streets | By: Marta Olmos, Communications Coordinator at Main Street America
Collage of fresh produce and a vendor booth from Market on Main. Photos courtesy of Stuart Main Street.

August 7-13, 2022 is National Farmers Market Week! From farm-fresh veggies to artisanal delicacies, in communities of all sizes, farmers markets are beloved across the country. Many Main Street programs host farmers markets in their districts to bring in revenue, connect with local businesses, reduce food deserts, and increase foot traffic. We spoke to Main Street directors about their farmers markets to understand the myriad of ways that their markets connect with the Four Points and transform their Main Streets.

Economic Vitality

Farmers markets can be powerful economic engines. They serve as excellent opportunities to introduce customers to a wide range of products in a more casual setting where they can ask questions, sample items, and get to know business owners. Farmers markets are also an opportunity to bring in merchants and producers from outside the district and engage them in your entrepreneurial ecosystem. Once you build those relationships, you can explore other opportunities like brick-and-mortar stores, pop-ups, and placing products in existing Main Street shops.

Center City of Amarillo in Texas opened their market, the Amarillo Community Market, at the behest of the city seven years ago. It has since grown to more than fifty vendors. “Amarillo Community Market is a community celebration plus economic development,” said Executive Director Beth Duke. “Several of our vendors now have storefronts, e-commerce stores, and regular customers year-round.” The vendors receive a huge economic benefit from their participation. One vendor who regularly drives 48 miles each weekend to sell his fresh beef and produce credits the market with the growth of his business, saying that it is helping him work toward his goal of opening his own storefront in the future.

Main Street Steamboat Springs in Colorado originally began their market as a promotional event to bring people downtown, but after nine successful years, their new executive director Lisa Popovich was tasked with turning the market into an income-generating program. The organization faced a significant challenge: how to grow their market presence without taking business away from the brick-and-mortar establishments in the district.

“We did this by carefully curating the vendors at the market,” said Popovich. “We aggressively recruited food and food-related vendors and over the years, have incubated many businesses that now have brick and mortar locations, many in our downtown.” They also limited the types of items that could be sold in the market, so they were not in direct competition with downtown retailers, and they gave downtown businesses priority access if they wanted to join the market.

In addition to creating or strengthening a Main Street’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, markets can also be significant revenue-generators for Main Street programs. Stuart Main Street took over the city’s market in 2021 and, despite initial challenges, have been able to bring in significant income for their program. McMinnville Downtown Association’s Farmers Market provides 25% of their annual income. This revenue provides Main Street programs with the flexibility to fund other innovative programs to support their districts.


As any Main Streeter knows, location is key for business success, and no location is better than a Main Street district! Using the historic, natural, and community design features of your community is a great way to enhance the market experience and highlight the beauty of your district. Stuart Main Street’s Market on Main is held in Flagler Park. “The park is beautiful and sits along the St. Lucie River running parallel with our downtown's Riverwalk,” said Executive Director Candace Callahan. “The park not only offers a perfect view of the water but also offers lots of shade from our many tall palm and banyan trees. There are public restrooms, a playground for children, and several pavilions and gazebos to give everyone a place to sit and enjoy.”

If the historic layout of your district is not suitable for a farmers market, expanding into a dedicated facility can be a good solution. Winnsboro Main Street in Texas originally hosted their program on Market Street, but as they took on new vendors, they began to run out of space. In April 2021, they opened four new pavilions near the original location to accommodate their expanding market. They have also added space for food trucks and a community garden, and are considering an expansion of two more pavilions in the near future.


Farmers markets offer significant promotional opportunities. Whether you want to highlight the unique products sold in your area, spotlight local business owners, or introduce people to your district, farmers markets are a great way to get the word out and bring people downtown.
Canton Economic Development Corporation’s market in Texas primarily operates as a promotional opportunity for local farmers and businesses. They created fun programs to help showcase the unique products that are sold at the market, like ‘Cream of the Crop.’ “When shoppers fill up their cards, they are put in a drawing for a market bag full of products all donated by the vendors for free,” said Megan Mitchell, Main Street Manager. They also recently hosted a farm-to-table dinner that exclusively featured products from their market. These unique promotions help entice patrons to brave the Texas heat and check out the market and the Main Street.

The Oceanside Morning Farmers Market in Oceanside, California is celebrating their 30th anniversary this week. They have an innovative program to ease the promotional burden while engaging the community. The organization has a strong partnership with the Oceanside High School photography class: students visit the market with specific photography assignments and MainStreet Oceanside uses their photographs in their promotional materials and social media. Through this win-win arrangement, student artists gain valuable experience and opportunities to showcase their talents, and the market’s promotional materials stay fresh and community-driven.

In Wisconsin, the Downtown Racine Corporation farmers market offers an adult twist on the concept: they have an evening market, complete with beer and live music. Although it is a new endeavor, it has already been a huge success. Their first market was so popular that it drew crowds larger than the space could handle! To meet this high demand, they encouraged attendees to explore downtown businesses and dining options as well as exploring the market. In the future, they hope to build on this success and use the market to drive foot traffic throughout the district.

In addition to promoting the downtown district and local businesses, markets are also a great way for organizations to introduce new audiences to their work and the Main Street Movement through personal interactions, media coverage, and accolades. Winnsboro Main Street’s market has received national recognition. “Our Farmers Market here in the 3,300-population town of Winnsboro Texas was ranked 2nd in the state of Texas and 2nd in whole Southwest region in the American Farmland Trust’s 13th Annual America’s Farmers Market Celebration last year,” said Main Street Program Manager Brenda Buck.


Organizing a farmers market is a large and daunting task, but it can also be an opportunity to engage local business and residents to build a community-driven event. Lisa Popovich at Main Street Steamboat Springs encourages Main Street programs to act with intentionality when they are thinking about opening a market. “Understand your customer and your intention,” said Popovich. “Our intentions changed over the years and the market was able to grow and change with our community. If you are serving your community, listen to what they are saying and find a way to provide what they are looking for.”

Main Street Guymon in Oklahoma believes that a straightforward approach is the most effective. “We try to make it a simple process, with very little paperwork and few rules. It is something that is easy enough a gardener with surplus squash can make it available to sell,” said Director Melyn Johnson.

Partnering with an experienced organization is a smart way for Main Streets to open their own markets. Downtown Racine Corporation partners with Kenosha Harbor Market to open their market, bringing together the two organization’s different sets of expertise. “They had the knowledge of organizing the market, and we did all the marketing, permits, booked bands, and got sponsors,” said Executive Director Kelly Kruse.

Havana Main Street in Florida partnered with local business owner Jennifer Folsom to revive their struggling market. She transformed their program into the Havana Market, which specializes in offering agricultural products and craft goods. Through outreach to local vendors, they identified and secured a better location for the market and have successfully grown it into a thriving program.

Scenes from Steamboat Farmers Market. Photos courtesy of Main Street Steamboat Springs.

So, You’re Interested in Starting a Farmers Market. Now What?

“Farmers Markets are businesses, but they are also community builders,” said Lisa Popovich. She is deeply passionate about her market, and her inbox is open to any Main Streeters who have questions about how to begin their own market. You can contact her at

“Look at current resources, future potential, create a plan direction and stick with it,” advises Brenda Buck, Main Street Program Manager at Winnsboro Main Street. “It’s sometimes tempting to migrate to something else that might be more popular at the time, or seemingly more attractive, but every ‘veer off the path’ erodes at the quality of the goal and the trust of the consumer.”

Downtown Racine Corporation has just started their farmers market journey, but they are already enthusiastic about it. “Do it!” urges Executive Director Kelly Kruse. “Such an amazing draw to the downtown to help stimulate the economy and truly pumps a lot of revenue to small businesses, as well as creates community pride.”