UltraStar plants seeds for sustainable farmers market


April 18, 2013 - 6:43 am
Produce from a farmers market last year at the Stagestop Marketplace. Bee Bullock photo

The UltraStar movie theater complex near Maricopa is taking a crack at a popular event that has yet to establish permanent roots in the young city.

The vision is for residents to come out to the UltraStar Multi-tainment Center off State Route 347 and enjoy the offerings of fresh fruit, vegetables, crafts and other goods.

“We really want to provide Maricopa a tremendous Saturday morning farmers market experience,” said Adam Saks, the center’s general manager.

Saks said such a vision will take time. The Saturday market began March 30, and in its first few weeks only a handful of vendors have set up shop at the center’s Ak-Chin Amphitheater. Last week, Saks said around seven vendors showed up.

“You can’t build a farmers market in two weeks,” he said. “It’s kind of a catch-22 situation. To attract a lot of vendors, you need a lot of foot traffic. To attract a lot of foot traffic, you need vendors.”

It’s a situation Beatrice Bullock is all too familiar with.

Bullock ran a farmers market at Stagestop Marketplace on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway from December 2011 to September.

“It’s a continuous challenge to get vendors and it’s a continuous challenge to get foot traffic in Maricopa,” she said.

While it was a constant struggle to attract the vendors – using platforms such as Facebook, Craigslist and other websites – she said a farmers market is “definitely something the city needs.”

For one thing, it provides an opportunity for businesses to grow, she said. One vendor began a dessert business at the market and now sells treats at a specialty boutique in Las Vegas.

To UltraStar, she sends this advice: “Don’t be discouraged.”

The farmers market at Stagestop Marketplace reached its peak in March 2012 – growing to more than 50 vendors. Bullock partly blames a drop in numbers because of schedule changes.

The market started on Sundays and then switched to Saturday, not the best idea, she said, since other city events also take place on Saturday.
“There was too much competition for the market,” she said.

The market was again switched to Sunday, but that just confused people, Bullock said.

Bullock eventually gave up her position as event coordinator saying it took up too much time. She now concentrates on a food truck business she and her husband run together. The Buzznbeez Good Food Truck will be featured on the Food Network this June.

Vendors still set up shop on weekends, mainly Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Stagestop Marketplace, a location owned by Will Dunn.

Dunn said the number of vendors can fluctuate from five to 25. Currently, about 10 vendors show up each weekend.

But as the market continues to thrive, Dunn said he doesn’t have the formula down for creating a successful farmers market in Maricopa.

Sometimes vendors expect to make a lot of cash in their first weekend and don’t understand that it takes time to draw the crowd, he said. Having nonconsistent vendors then confuses the consumer who doesn’t know what to expect each weekend.

“It is a challenging thing; it really is,” he said.

Dunn said he’s excited UltraStar has stepped up to the plate in the farmers market game, and that while it is competition, having another market in town could be a benefit.

“They’re success is going to help our success,” he said.

Saks said UltraStar’s current target goal is to hit 30 vendors.

“If we have 30 vendors, we’re going to look pretty good,” he said. “I was never shooting for 30 in the immediate timeframe. And it’s going to take us a while to get to 30. That’s just the way it is.”

The movie theater complex has gotten mixed responses on its Facebook page concerning the farmers market. Some people commented on a post that Saks said “should not have gone out.”

A portion of an April 11 Facebook post reads: “There are over 50 local Arizona vendors along with fresh fruits, vegetables, local crafts, artisan products & organic local fare!”

InMaricopa.com inquired about the posting through email.

Saks responded with the following message: “I will speak with my social media team. That should not have gone out, we were never close to 50 vendors.”

UltraStar posted a message on its Facebook Tuesday that explained how growing the market takes time and commitment.

While some people pointed out the 50-vendor error on the social media site and expressed disappointment in the markets that have been held, much of the feedback was positive.

“We were there last Saturday, got some awesome pie, as well as fresh tomatoes, red lettuce and a really big cucumber,” wrote Linda Block. “Made some yummy salads, will be going back again this Saturday.”

While Saks said he hopes the event will take root, the market will not continue if the vendor numbers do not grow.

“If I go another month, and I still have four vendors, we’re probably not going to be able to do another farmers market.”

The UltraStar farmer’s market currently runs 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.




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