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A bumper crop A new generation of farmers' markets is sprouting across Western New York

The second golden age of farmers' markets has arrived, and we're living in it.

In just eight years, new markets have appeared in Alden, Kenmore, Clarence, Springville, Bidwell Park in Buffalo, and, this year, Holland, Williamsville, and the University at of Buffalo's South Campus.

Together, they are the new generation of farmers' markets, updated versions of old town square-style bazaars that have flourished here -- buoyed by upstate agriculture -- for decades.

In the 1970s and '80s, markets opened in East Aurora, downtown Buffalo's Main Place Mall and Hamburg -- and the century-old North Tonawanda city market was remodeled. Other markets in Lockport, Niagara Falls and Clinton-Bailey have been around even longer.

National figures show the sudden doubling of local farmers' markets is on track with recent trends. The federal government reports that the number of farmers' markets nationwide spiked between 1994 and 2006 from about 1,700 to about 4,400.

"There are definitely more people and vendors now," said Karen Vilonen of the Bidwell market, adding that the surrounding community immediately embraced the idea.

"It's more than a farmers' market, it's a social event on Saturday mornings," she said. "A lot of our customers walk here."

John Long, who manages the North Tonawanda market, which boasts up to 75 vendors at a time and brings in gross profits of about $35,000 each year for the city, said managers have stopped by his market for tips.

"You see markets springing up all over," he added.

He said he has also noticed an increase in customers at his own market, noting that "easily" 10,000 people attend the market on Saturdays in the summer. "A lot of younger people are coming in . . . people who say they used to come here as a child," he said.

Betty Newell, manager of the 30-year-old Hamburg market, said she has offered advice on everything from promotions to finding vendors, and that she has also benefited from new markets. "Every summer, I make sure I get out to everyone's markets . . . You can really learn so much," she said.

Marjorie Wiedemann, who opened a market in Holland this season, said she looked to more established markets, especially Alden, for advice. "It's tough when you first start out," Wiedemann said. "You don't have any money . . . Markets like East Aurora have been around for years -- they don't even have to advertise."

As a result of increased competition, many of the new markets have pioneered attention-getting tactics.

In general, nouveau markets are both cozier and more self-consciously rooted in a nostalgic, community-oriented philosophy than their predecessors.

"There are two kinds of markets," said Nancy McIver, manager of the 5-year-old Clarence market. "The ones with special events and the ones with only vendors."

McIver said her market features a country store, garden lectures, barbecues and a wine-tasting shack run by a local vineyard. "Some people come just to taste the wine," she said.

Alden, like Holland, attracts buyers with weekly entertainment. It has held events like a sheepshearing day, a pie-baking contest and bluegrass and country music days.

Williamsville has a published, polished schedule of events and performances. On one recent Saturday, Mayor Mary E. Lowther stood among stands offering brewed coffee and designer soaps, selling T-shirts bearing the market's professional logo.

"We have a unique environment here," said co-founder and manager Lynn Schwab. "We have the Mill, we have Glen Falls Park."

The University at Buffalo's new five-vendor market off Main Street and Kenmore Avenue features a nutritionist, said coordinator Pamela Beal.

Even Hamburg has refreshed its format to get in step with changing expectations, adding concerts and community events just this year.

John Parise of the Clinton-Bailey market in Buffalo said that in the last three years, he has noticed a "correlation" between featured events and an increase in customers.

"We've cleaned the place up and made it more of a family environment," he said. Parise estimates up to 8,000 customers stop by on the market's busiest days.

Some markets, however, have felt the pinch of overcrowding, even as business thrives.

Joan Weiss sells produce at one of the two regular booths left at the Kenmore market, which opened in 2001.

"We've got more people [as buyers] now than when we started coming," she said. "But [traffic] has leveled off here."

She cited both loyalty to old markets and interest in new ones as possible reasons for the decline.

"They'll get in their cars and drive all the way to Tonawanda since they're so used to going there," she said of potential buyers, adding that she has seen other curious customers venture to Williamsville and Clarence.

e-mail: kreedy@buffnews.com

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