In the town’s first effort to attract more people downtown by making the third weekend of the month the so-called party weekend, both vendors who lined Fort Blount Park and some customers said despite the downpour the effort was a good start.
“I think this was just as successful as the time I had in Winter Haven,” said Justin Harvey, who was selling All Natural Hot Sauce. “I think I sold just as much despite the rain.”
There were two steady downpours Saturday but they weren’t very heavy. One was during the morning. The other at about 1 p.m. The event itself ran from 10 a.m. until nearly 3 p.m.
The rainfall didn’t keep away Molly Egli. In a steady, falling, rain Saturday afternoon she said, “I think this is great. I hate the weather, but I like what’s here.”
Linda Weeks felt like what she was looking at downtown is something that should attract not only her every month, but will get her to bring friends and family as well.
“This could be something I can bring my friends to. I can go to North Carolina and bring them what we have in our town,” she said.
The vendors were pretty pleased too.
“Yeah, I think I would really like to return,” said Barbara Cooper who, with her husband, Jim, sells parachord bracelets and tools to make them.
Through making a video on YouTube, the couple’s parachord business has taken off a bit and while he uses it for therapy, he said, the sales and questions he’s got Saturday made this a good outing for him. On YouTube, people can find his video by searching his business name Mr. Coop’s Crafty Corner.
The fact that the items are unique and the number of people who showed up shows this should be regular said Jen Daniels, a Main Street Bartow board member.
“It’s unique stuff that you can only get there,” Daniels said. “I can go to Publix and get guacamole or salsa, but it’s not the same. The guacamole stuff is outstanding. There was a juice guy there where I thought my kids were going to spend all my money.”
She said the next Third Saturday Market will be on Dec. 21. There is no Friday Fest that month as the annual Christmas Parade happens the Friday before, on Dec. 13. She doesn’t believe this should affect the turnout though.
“I don’t think it will (affect turnout),” she said. “Dec. 21 is a great buying time and people get into the Christmas rush. The items are great stuff … great stocking stuffers you can’t find anywhere else.
She plans to keep the same marketing scheme going as the event is being shown through Facebook and other social media outlets. There are also signs being hung around town to get the word out.
Whether or not it brought feet into downtown businesses was something more of a wait and see attitude. Though there was a little more traffic, the rainfall played a factor, some said.
Giordano Lanuto, the owner of Palace Pizza, said there was some traffic into his store but he’s not so sure it was because of the Market.
“There could have been some business because of the soccer tournaments,” he said, adding that Saturday was OK but the weather played a part. He said business on Saturday normally is sort of hit and miss. He said he does better during the week when people from the Neil Combee Administrative Center and Polk County Courthouse go there for lunch.
Down Main Street at Havana Delights, Saturday is one of the busiest days, said owner Alfredo Saltos. This past Saturday was also good. He said there was more traffic than usual, but two larger parties during the day came in also. Whether the rain played any factor was hard for him to say.
“I didn’t even realized it rained until we got done,” he said.
He said since his appearance on a Fox News television report about Hispanic workers in the country and his inclusion in Groupon, he noticed a traffic increase.
“There’s a family that comes here from Boca Raton (on Saturday) and they said they saw this (place) on Fox and they spend the weekend (in Bartow),” he said.
He said he also frequently gets people from Tampa and one family that comes here from Naples.
He said he gets a lot of local traffic, too.
“One of the beautiful things about a small town is there can be very little advertising. Word of mouth can go a long way,” he said.
At Vivian’s Cafe, which reopened on Saturday for the first time in a couple of weeks and since the name was changed from Silver Ring Cafe, Annette Fussell said she noticed more people downtown on Saturday. She said the lunch hour she noticed there seemed to be more people coming in than she expected.
The same was true at Hacienda, where owner George Ochoa said the lunch time traffic was pretty good, while normally the business on Saturday is slow.
Karen Guffey, the president of Main Street Bartow this year said the effort by Jen Daniels and Trish Pfeiffer to get this going was commendable and the first effort, from feedback she’s gotten, seems is was successful.
“I heard a lot of positive things,” she said. “The restaurants were excited and I think having a presence on Saturday brings more people downtown. We just have to let everyone know about it.”
She did say getting people farther east on Main Street for something like this may not be as successful as it was on the west area.
“We really can’t situate somewhere else because of the problem of shutting down the streets,” she said.
With this event the streets remained open, allowing for better parking and getting more people downtown. She said events like the antique sale, stores on the east side of Main Street is the aim of attracting feet down there.
“I think maybe if those stores have some more signage that let people know they’re open on Saturday that could help,” she said. She added maybe they can take out a table and put it out to attract people to the store could be helpful.
Now the effort is on the town, Daniels said. She has a commitment from the vendors so they plan to return.
“The struggle right now is the Bartow consumer. Vendors are coming and now the people have to come,” she said.
And whether or not that marks something new and gets traffic downtown on the weekends was summed up by Lanuto:
“Well, let’s just all hope.”