Get your reusable grocery bags ready and forget that Super Wal-Mart because this Saturday marks the third date of the massive new farmers market in the heart of beautiful, historic downtown Riverhead.
The market, which is located at 17 E. Main—the former site of Swezey’s Department Store—will take place every Saturday until May 17, according to organizer Holly Browder of Browder’s Birds in Southold. Browder said there’s a growing waiting list of East End purveyors who hope to offer up their local goods alongside the 35 entities who signed up in advance of the grand opening Feb. 1.
More than 1,000 shoppers flooded downtown for the first day of the farmers market—crowding the booths to peruse and buy East End goodies including eggs, mushrooms, meats, cheeses, bread, beer, wool and oysters.
“It’s exciting to see so many people hustling and bustling downtown,” town board member Jodi Giglio said of the crowd as she and fellow board member George Gabrielsen stood shoulder-to-shoulder with shoppers. “This is so great for the farmers because winter is traditionally difficult for sales,” added Gabrielsen.
Vendors included Race Rock Oysters, Koppert Cress, Mecox Bay Dairy, Long Island Mushroom Co., Browder’s Birds and Gula Gula Empanadas.
While Wainscott’s Miss Lady Small Batch Root Beer provided refreshing non-alcoholic suds to consumers, Riverhead’s newest craft beer kid on the block, Moustache Brewery, debuted their growlers of Everyman’s Porter, Shoot Yo’ Rye Out Scotch Rye ale and Maiden Voyage pale ale to the throngs.
“This is crazy,” Lauri Spitz said with a smile as she poured a growler of Maiden Voyage, she and husband Matt’s inaugural ale. “We didn’t know what to expect, but we definitely didn’t expect this level of craziness. We were setting up the table this morning and people were already lining up for beer!”
Spitz called the opportunity to service so many people at the farmers market an “amazing” one, adding it will be wonderful to begin getting Riverhead acquainted with the Central Islip couple’s products as their Hallett Street tasting room will not be ready to open for a few more months. The couple sold through at least six kegs of beer during the grand opening of the market.
Executive Director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, Joe Gergela, said he was blown away by the response to the market as he stood amidst the crowd. “I think it’s definitely exceeded everyone’s expectations,” Gergela said. “People are going to come from all over for this market and this is just the beginning. I think this, by itself, will bring back downtown Riverhead.”
The idea for the market was sparked in Brookhaven during a November meeting of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, where Southold farmer Holly Browder said she sat next to Christine Kempner, director of Riverhead’s Community Development Agency, and got to talking about Gergela’s longtime desire for a year-round indoor farmers market.
“Christine thought Riverhead would be a great place for one and we got the Riverhead Business Improvement District to sponsor it,” Browder said. “The BID really cares about the town’s image and they have done an amazing job. I thought the building was just going to be a raw industrial space, which was fine with me because it’s an old department store, but the BID cleaned it up, painted it, hung banners in front and in back of the building, changed 47 fluorescent bulbs and got the boiler going (for the first time since 2006.)”
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter affectionately dubbed BID president Ray Pickersgill “the mayor of downtown Riverhead,” for his hard work in getting the market started, adding Pickersgill has been working on the project for a decade.
The town itself cosponsored the market, helped negotiate the building’s lease and sent the fire marshal and building inspector to the site in the two weeks leading up the grand opening. “When we have a good idea, we move quickly to execute that idea,” Walter said. “We don’t let grass grow.”
What’s your favorite item at the new Riverhead Farmer’s Market?