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Customers walk by a variety of vendor stands at the Janesville Farmers Market on a Saturday morning in May. Market manager Emily Arthur said vendors and customers appreciated the more spacious location.

JANESVILLE

As the Janesville Farmers Market finishes its first season after moving from North Main Street to the Janesville’s downtown riverfront town square, a Janesville Farmers Market official said vendors and customers consider the market’s new home a hit.

“We’ve gotten zero feedback from any vendors that have said this was a bad move and we should move back,” market manager Emily Arthur said.

Arthur was addressing a specter raised earlier when Janesville’s city administration forced the private farmers market to move to the newly completed town square after the market had spent the prior 15 years cultivating a following along North Main Street.

Arthur said some first-time customers never knew the difference—but what’s more, several new and varied vendors joined the market midyear as word spread that the Saturday morning fresh food and crafter’s market was drawing 3,000 people a weekend in the early spring.

“That’s July foot traffic,” Arthur said.

Next year, Arthur said, the market’s management hopes to hatch a new method to tally customer foot traffic.

She said the former market grounds along North Main had only two or three main entry points, whereas the town square has about 20 places people can come and go. That makes it more difficult to analyze foot traffic in real time.

Arthur said the nonprofit farmers market’s board will be digesting a member survey in the coming weeks and addressing “a lot of suggested tweaks” by vendors and customers, but she said the early consensus is that customers and vendors alike generally have approved of the new market location as being more spacious than the former spot.

Unlike that location, which operated on a barricaded section of street, the market’s layout at the town square allows customers to move back and forth across to parts of the market laid out along the east and west sides of the Rock River.

“I think that has helped us because everybody doesn’t want to be in a smaller confined area during COVID,” Arthur said. “So that was a huge hit, just having spread out spaces, lots of places for people to hang out. That part went really well.”

Arthur said the board wants to take time in the coming weeks to inventory and discuss feedback from vendors and customers, but early indications are that customers would like to see the market partner up with other groups for special events during some market weekends.

Other customers and vendors, Arthur said, would like to see musical performances be spread out throughout the square, and some customers have asked for more space at the market for food trucks and prepared food vendors.

Some customers said the new location with its extra elbow room and river-spanning pedestrian bridge that connects a two-sided market in the middle gives the market more of a feel of an event, like a bustling street festival.

“We heard from a lot of people saying they came out because they were so curious, they’d never been to the Janesville farmers market before,” Arthur said. “They really wanted to see how we were activating this new downtown space. A lot of comments have been like, they feel like they were coming to like a festival or an event or something rather than like, I’m going grocery shopping.”

The farmers market added several midyear vendors, lured back a few who had left the market in recent years and a few longtime vendors said they had their best sales volumes ever at the new location, Arthur said.

The Janesville Farmers Market is now moving into its late fall and winter season, which is just as active as during spring and summer months.

The market over the weekend cranked up its winter market in the center shopping concourse at Uptown Janesville, the city’s main shopping mall at 2500 Milton Ave.

Arthur said the winter market has jumped from about 25 to 30 vendors on weekends last year to nearly 40 vendors, with a waiting list for others who want to join.

Arthur said the market likely will seek extra space at the mall to fit up to 50 vendors. A share of those vendors could make it back to the town square next year when the outdoor market reopens.

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