Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Village Setting: Chester Sunday Market

I wasn't sure what to expect when I signed up for the Chester Sunday market. The market was brand new, and Chester's a small town. Would anyone show up? Would I be wasting every precious Sunday of the summer? But I'd heard that the organizer, Nancy Freeborn, had run a market in Chester in the past and had done an amazing job.

So I
went for it. And I'm so glad I did. This market is like no other I've ever been to, because it's like a mini-street festival right in the center of town. Or maybe I shouldn't say mini, because this market has well over 20 vendors set up along both sides of the main street. And it is bustling. Even when the weather has been less than perfect, people come out by the hundreds for this market.

I'm not sure which I'm more impressed with, the farmers market itself or downtown Chester. I'd never been to Chester before, and somehow I'd gotten the impression that it was, I don't know, a little snooty or conservative or something. I couldn't have been more wrong. It's definitely more affluent than New London, but it's also artsy, liberal, full of community, with a strong base of people who believe in supporting local businesses and local farmers. Some of my customers in Chester have told me that there are a lot of community events in this village--music festivals, barbecues, etc. People take the time to get to know one another here.

Why do some places seem to foster community while others foster isolation? Maybe Chester
works because of the centralized downtown, and because local developers--in particular Michael Joplin--took pains to ensure that the downtown buildings would be owned by people who were either living or running businesses in town. This town isn't marred by absentee landlords. And, too, if you've ever read a book on contemporary town planning, you'd recognize that, whether by accident or design, Chester is perfect: mixed use buildings, parking hidden in back of the shops, town house style store facades right up against the wide sidewalks.

And so this market had a huge head start, being located in a town where people already valued community and local economies. Even so, it's an amazing success. It was a brilliant idea to hold this market in the heart of downtown rather than in a nearby parking lot, even though town officials were initially worried about traffic flow and emergency vehicle access. People have so much to look at and enjoy here: the vendors' displays full of berries, greens, artisan bread, raw milk, exquisite jewelry and indie fashion--but also the independently-owned shops and cafes and perfect New England architecture. And each other! People tend to come here when the market opens, and stay for hours chatting with the folks they run into.

I've said less than usual about the vendors at this market, but that's only because I'm usually so busy that I haven't had time to check them all out. But I know there is a vast array of produce, cut flowers, cheeses, local meats and breads--and absolutely nothing that might qualify as junk. A higher percentage of vendors have organic produce here than at my other markets. And there is also live music every week, all of which has been excellent.

The Chester Sunday Market runs from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. through mid-October. This week is
the Peach festival! For directions and more info, visit www.chestersundaymarket.com

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