Outdoor shopping a breath of fresh air
By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer
The sun on your shoulders. The breeze in your hair. The smell of fresh fruit wafting through the warm air. There’s something about open-air shopping that makes farmers markets, flea markets and garage sales a quintessential Michigan summertime experience. And with more and more outdoor markets popping up around metro Detroit, there’s never been a better time to head outside and enjoy the sunshine while giving a boost to the local economy.
Shelly Mazur knows firsthand how popular farmers markets are these days. As the manager of the Royal Oak Farmers Market at 316 E. 11 Mile Road, she said she’s seen a big increase over the past 10 years of people who want to buy their produce from local vendors. The appeal, she said, is in knowing what kinds of things are on the food we eat — or rather, what isn’t on it.
“With everything in the news all over the country, with the tomato scare and the spinach thing, these illnesses happen because people don’t know where this stuff is coming from,” said Mazur. “People have become much more aware of where their food is coming from and what’s put on it while it’s growing.”
According to Mazur, there’s an increasing interest in buying food that’s grown organically and using sustainable farming practices.
“A lot of stores, regardless of what they need (to protect against), just mass spray produce no matter what with chemicals. Sustainable farmers only use what’s needed, as needed.”
If you ask Dan Carmody, president of Eastern Market Corporation in Detroit, why farmers markets are so popular, he’d tell you the interest goes beyond healthy eating. He thinks it’s about building a sense of community between neighbors and a relationship between farmers and consumers. The result, he said, is an interest and investment in Michigan’s economy.
“People are yearning for a stronger connection with their food. It opens up the opportunity for farmers to tell their stories, and I think that’s what’s driving the local food movement.”
That movement is perhaps one of the reasons the city of Detroit is seeing a resurgence of sorts in the area surrounding Eastern Market, located at 2934 Russell St. In 2006, Carmody and his team took over operations of the large Eastern Market complex from the city, and he said that since then more than 400 new businesses have opened up nearby.
The market, which has been open since 1891, hasn’t seen such an influx of vendors and market-goers alike since the post-war era, according to Carmody. Though the market is usually only open 5 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays, the recent addition of 11 a.m.- 6 p.m. Tuesdays to its hours of operation July 10-Oct. 30 was made to accommodate the hordes of shoppers. Customers come from all over Southeast Michigan each week to stroll around the city on warm days and shop for groceries, flowers and locally made specialty foods items; and market vendors and surrounding retailers continue to reap the benefits.
“It’s one of the most unique and authentic urban experiences in North America,” said Carmody. “It’s a place where all kinds of people and all generations come and leave feeling a little better for the experience.”
But the open-air market trend isn’t limited to foods to put on your table — you might find the table itself. For 37 years, people have flocked to the annual Royal Oak Garage Sale to find bargains from a huge variety of vendors. Held in the public parking garage on Lafayette Street, between Fifth and Sixth streets, the event has everything from private residents selling household items they no longer need to crafters, antique dealers and professional retailers.
The sale is put on each year by the Royal Oak Chamber of Commerce, and Jennifer Clark, director of events for the chamber, said it has only gained popularity over the years with the influx of second-hand item sales on websites like eBay and Craigslist.
“There’s a huge interest in those kinds of sales. There’s also a huge push towards stay-at-home moms crafting and people making candles, food and all of that at home. They’re out there and they need an environment that people pass through to see those things. They don’t need a store front; they can come and sell at the garage sale,” said Clark.
This year’s sale will take place from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. July 14 and 15, rain or shine, and Clark said the chamber is still looking for vendors. She added that as far as she knows, the event is the largest garage sale in the world, drawing about 14,000 people every year. At $2 per customer 12 and older, the sale is a low-cost way to do some low-cost shopping.
“Michigan has such a short outdoor time — to go outside and wander the streets and ride bikes. This is just one of those outdoor kind of events, and there’s something for everyone,” said Clark.
In Fraser, the love of outdoor shopping has been embraced by residents for over 15 years at the annual Rummage and Plant Sale Flea Market. The event is hosted by the Fraser Historical Commission at the Baumgartner Museum, 18577 Masonic, at Kelly Road. Museum Chair Marilynn Wright said the sale has been popular for years with people looking for a deal and those who want to clear items out of their homes.
“People look forward to it every year. They start calling me early asking when it’s going to be,” said Wright. “Everyone’s looking for a bargain, and instead of running an ad in the paper, they’ll pay $15 (for a booth) and just set up a table and sell stuff here all day.”
This year’s sale, which was to be held June 3, featured more than 40 vendors selling items ranging from Avon products to handmade jewelry, collectibles, plants, and of course, garage sale items. One area of the sale was devoted entirely to Christmas décor, which was donated to the museum as a fundraiser for the Historical Commission.
In case if inclement weather, a rain date was scheduled for June 10.
“We do it twice a year, the week after Memorial Day and the week after Labor Day,” she said. “There’s 50/50 raffle tickets, a lottery board, and food concessions with hot dogs and ice cream. People who come are usually there to spend the whole day.”
For information about outdoor markets in your area, call your local parks and recreation department.
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