December 14, 2016

Winter Market Opens This Week With New and Familiar Vendors

YUM: Wildflour Bakery is among the vendors at this season’s Winter Market, which opens Thursday, December 15 in the Community Room of Princeton Public Library. What started as a small offshoot of the April-November market is now bustling with vendors who vie for a spot to sell their wares. (Photo by Megan McKeever)

Not long after he debuted the Princeton Farmers Market in two parking lots of the old Wild Oats market on Nassau Street, Jack Morrison got a phone call from Leslie Burger, former director of the Princeton Public Library. She had a suggestion.

“Leslie said to me, ‘Jack, you’ve got to bring that thing down here,’” Mr. Morrison recalled this week. Mr. Morrison, who is president of Princeton’s JM Restaurant Group, agreed to try holding the weekly market at Hinds Plaza outside the library. It was an idea that has borne fruit — no pun intended.

Seven years on, the market is thriving. Many of the vendors tell Mr. Morrison that the enterprise, which sells locally grown products weekly on the plaza from April through November and monthly inside the library’s Community Room from December through March, is the best showcase for their goods.

“Early on, we’d have a farmers’ luncheon, and I’d ask them where we ranked in farmers’ markets. We were at the middle of the pack,” Mr. Morrison said. “We are now the top market for 50 percent of our vendors, and it runs on a Thursday, not on weekends like the others. Go figure. We’re ranked up against some great New Jersey farmers’ markets, so we’re thrilled.”

The fifth season of the Winter Market gets underway Thursday, with new hours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Herbs, produce, exotic mushrooms, relishes, honey, poultry, pork, beef, baked goods, nuts, and fresh produce are among the foods being offered; orchids, furniture polish, soaps, and beeswax are also being sold.

“Both the summer and winter markets are very busy and doing so well,” said Mr. Morrison. “Leslie had the wisdom to see that this was the place to do it. With the library, the garage, the proximity to different neighborhoods and the library, it’s great. The community traffic of the library, more so than the tourist traffic, is the most important thing. That’s what makes it so special for me — the fact that the community religiously goes to the market and loves it.”

Starting the Winter Market five years ago was part of an effort to “keep the momentum and the flavor of the market in the consumer’s mind,” Mr. Morrison said. “It’s taken a little while. But now we have so many customers who rely on us. Chickadee Farm, Terhune Orchard, Fulper, the mushroom guy — they all have built relationships and friendships with the customers. We also get a chance in the winter market to highlight some new people. Some are great for the winter but not for summer. It’s kind of like a test kitchen scenario.”

It was hard to find a cheese vendor when the market first opened, but now there are six trying to get in, Mr. Morrison said. “And we have four people doing great heritage pork. Chickens are everywhere. We’re always looking at other markets to see if there’s a category we’ve missed.”

Running the market until recently was Megan McKeever, who has taken a job in Nashville. The search will begin next month for her replacement. In the meantime, Mr. Morrison and his colleagues at JM Group will be running the show.

“It’s much more of a real live market than it’s been in the past,” Mr. Morrison said. “It’s wonderful to see how much it’s grown and how important it has become in the local community.”