Pearl Farmers Market Celebrates Five Successful Years

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It certainly doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but Pearl Farmers Market celebrated its fifth anniversary this week. Having grown from 15 vendors to a current 50 vendors, it has become the undisputed premiere market in San Antonio. You’ve never been before? Be sure to bring your bags – and your appetite.

Why did it become so popular when others have either held steady or faded away? It’s a lucky formula of a great location – which has only gotten better with time – plenty of parking, and a small-town vibe that other locations simply cannot match. Helping the process has been a retooling of city ordinances that made it extremely difficult for vendors to sell freshly prepared foods.

Rain or shine, hot or cold, the vendors are there. This week provided one of those gorgeous days that we all wish for – spring and fall are indeed the best seasons in San Antonio. People responded to the beautiful weather by flocking to the event. There is plenty of parking, but yesterday presented a challenge. Meanwhile, a nearby bicycle rack stood empty. There are many advantages to two-wheeled transportation, and being able to park your ride outside the front door is one of them.

This bicycle rack next to the market is mysteriously empty, while the parking lots are full. Photo by Page Graham.

This bicycle rack next to the market is mysteriously empty, while the parking lots are full. Photo by Page Graham.

Another reason for the Pearl Market’s popularity is that it’s a dog-friendly venue. The surrounding buildings provide enough shade to keep both humans and dogs from overheating in the South Texas sun, yet another reason for the popularity of this venue. In the center of the market is a small green space, lined with cafe tables, giving the event a European flair as people lounged comfortably as their dogs sniffed the legs of passersby.

Live music is always on tap, too. The Colleens provided suitably soothing music next to the Pearl Stable, while families relaxed under the trees in the patio.

Farmers markets aren’t exactly new to San Antonio. El Mercado originally housed an ornate Victorian building from the 19th century, which was replaced by a bland brick building (with a parking lot on top) in the latter half of the 20th century. In recent years, the number of produce vendors there dwindled down to nothing, and it is now a tourist-oriented tienda. Starting in the 1990s, a number of smaller farmer’s markets established themselves around town, but they were very small and focused primarily on local, fresh produce.

While the Pearl Farmers Market (and its sister markets) is relatively new concept for San Antonio, the concept draws from the street markets of Europe. The primary difference is that there is a strong emphasis on foods that are sustainable, local, and organic. The availability of ready-to-eat foods adds a novel variety to the concept.

Sol y Luna employees offer up samples to tempt everyone's palates. Photo by Page Graham.

Sol y Luna employees offer up samples to tempt everyone’s palates. Photo by Page Graham.

Over the last couple of years, several more retailers have appeared on the Pearl landscape. All of this makes for an extremely appealing mix. The line at Local Coffee, for example, was out the door. Baristas worked feverishly to satisfy the demand.

According to the proprietors of The Tiny Finch, a boutique in the middle of the market, business is very good, especially on market days. This sentiment was echoed by a number of vendors, and it was evidenced by the fact that many products were already sold out by 11 a.m. If you want to get the good stuff, it pays to get there early. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., but by the end, many vendors are already closing up shop.

Sol y Luna Bakery is one of the original 15 vendors. The folks working their booth are busy cutting samples and selling loaves of bread. And they are quick to express their love of being at the market.

“It feels like a party every week,” said Sol y Luna’s Anna Gaytan.

More recently, Glenewinkel Brothers of Kingsbury have been selling their locally-raised pork and grass-fed beef products at the market. They have been so successful selling their meats that it’s been a struggle to keep up with demand.

Ward Glenwinkel discusses how things are going at the market. Photo by Page Graham.

Ward Glenwinkel discusses how things are going at the market. Photo by Page Graham.

“We had to sit out from January through March to wait for the pork to get bigger,” said Ward Glenewinkel. Items on their price chalkboard were mostly crossed out – only a few items remained available for sale.

The large turnout also benefits those doing good works, too. The pet adoption booth at SnipSA was a beehive of activity. People holding dogs and cats. Children frolicking with puppies. Kittens playing with one another. Volunteers encouraging folks to pet the animals and fill out the application forms. And it turns out the adoption event is very successful. According to SnipSA’s Bridget Haskell, “We adopt out 20-plus dogs during the farmer’s market. It’s beautiful and awesome.”

Cats, on the other hand, can be more challenging. Only about 2-4 cats are usually adopted during events like this. But what’s true of any animal adoption event is that it’s the puppies and kittens that are easiest to find homes for. Adult pets are always more challenging – please consider an older pet the next time you’re ready to adopt.

Adult pets are much harder to adopt out than puppies and kittens. Photo by Page Graham.

Adult pets are much harder to adopt out than puppies and kittens. Photo by Page Graham.

As the Pearl complex has developed, the Farmers Market has moved its location. Originally, it was in the parking lot next to La Gloria. It then moved into a more central location next to the Boiler House. With the onset of construction in the Brewing House area, that parking lot was closed. As a result, the market now lines the streets next to the boutiques housed in the Can Plant buildings. This incarnation is probably the best, as it gives it a very urban vibe, despite the fact that the buildings are only a couple of years old.

Without a doubt, the Pearl Farmers Market will continue to grow and thrive. We’ll see you there next time.

Tami Kegley contributed to this article.

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7 thoughts on “Pearl Farmers Market Celebrates Five Successful Years

  1. Completely agree with the new setup! It’s definitely my favorite. Michael and I are out there almost every Saturday enjoying the people watching and relaxing. Can’t wait to use the bicycle stand when we move into Dignowity Hill later this year 🙂

  2. In addition to the “luck” mentioned, I’m sure there’s a ton of behind the scenes work- 50 vendors, bands, dogs, etc don’t just come together like that without a lot of organizational work.

  3. With large sums of money going into the marketing of not only the farmers market but the whole Pearl complex, how could this fail? There are smaller mom & pop’ish farmers market that go largely overlooked because they are not as “hip” to shop at, unlike the highly stylized and city endorsed Pearl complex. The successful equation you tout is not a lot of luck, more like a lot of bucks.

    • When The Pearl Farmer’s Market started, I lived in Boerne. This was way before The Pearl was the “hip” successful venue that we see today. Anyone else remember those days? As I recall, much of the early buzz about this venue was word of mouth. Folks were raving about the quality of the goods to be had from these “mom & pop” vendors and willing to drive into downtown to collect the bounty. Today, The Cibolo Nature Center is building for success with their farmer’s market at Herff Farm. I know for a fact that much inspiration came from The Pearl. Over here in Beacon Hill, we have our little neighborhood market on Wednesday mornings. Good ideas are contagious, but community support ensures long term survival — and that type of goodwill money can’t buy!

      • I’ve shopped the market since it began and continue to do so, but I’m not going to pretend like luck had anything to do with this market’s success. A lot of marketing dollars and push from city officials made this market what it is. The market resides in a newly gentrified area of the city, what is happening in the Broadway corridor is not a mere coincidence, but a calculated effort by the city and developers. This takes nothing away from the market, as it is a great market with a lot of selection and great vendors, but lets not imagine it’s success just happened completely by accident. The mom & pop markets (SA Farmers Market) , that pre-date the Pearl would jump at the opportunity to receive similar branding campaigns.

  4. Would also love to see the Pearl Farmers Market (along with the Quarry) allow for the use of EBT benefits, so ALL San Antonians have access to all the wonderful in season thoughtfully grown produce and locally raised meats. I often wonder why these markets do not allow EBT, and if the exclusion is on purpose.

    • That’s a very good idea, and I doubt that it’s a deliberate omission. It’s up to individual vendors to choose what forms of payment they accept, and I imagine there are certain bureaucratic hoops that would need to be overcome for them to offer EBT, not to mention specific EBT card-processing equipment. Since most vendors are very small-scale operations, these things probably make it too difficult for them to offer it…

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