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Farmers market to conclude lively business season today

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Sunny weather this summer that’s carried into the fall has made the Farm and Craft Market in downtown Watertown a frequent stop for both tourists and area families.

To be hosted for the final time this season from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. today, the market has reeled in thousands to Washington Street with its range of fresh produce, handmade crafts and live entertainment, said Michelle A. Farrell, director of events for the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce.

“You get to enjoy the hot weather with lemonade, snow cones and ice cream,” she said. “The downtown sidewalks are a beautiful venue with the sun shining.”

Fifty-five vendors maxed out the 82 available spaces for the farmers market this year, including four new arrivals. In addition to the farmers selling fresh produce, the market’s also become an ideal spot for newly launched small businesses looking to get the word out.

Covered in Chocolate!, which opened a new location at the Franklin Building downtown in March, became a vendor at the market for the first time this season. The mother-daughter business, run by owners Susan M. Tanner and daughter Jennifer L. McConnell, has made contact with hundreds of customers at the market this season.

For a small business, “I definitely think networking is the only way to go,” Mrs. McConnell said. “You have to get your name out there yourself. It’s not easy to be a small business and produce your food products, so you have to do these weekend events because it’s not always feasible to make (enough) money.”

Because the chocolate shop in the Franklin Building is located only a short walk away from the market, she said, customers who are interested in buying products not sold outside simply can stroll right in. Others who visit the booth make purchases later by visiting the shop’s website.

“I just got a hit on my website from a woman in Atlanta, Ga., whose daughter had seen us this summer,” Mrs. McConnell said. “She was looking for a chocolate-covered bride and groom.”

Popcorn N More, which is being reopened by new owners this month on Public Square, sold an array of flavored popcorn at the market. Couple Jaime L. Ocean and Jeff D. Osbourne, who purchased the shop in the spring, used the market as a catalyst to inform the public the popular shop will open again for business this fall.

“The farmers market has really been our savior, because that’s been the only means of business for us until we open,” Ms. Ocean said of the shop, which will sell more than 40 flavors of popcorn.

Many loyal customers at the shop are used to its recipes, she said, so the couple worked hard to make sure the flavors mirror the originals. They also hope to lure new customers with added varieties. Favorites this summer included a patriotic blend with blueberry, vanilla and cherry flavors, green apple, jalapeno cheese and red-hot cinnamon.

“We just try to keep it fun and please people,” Ms. Ocean said. “We tested six different types of caramel corn to see which one customers liked the most.”

Grindstone Farm of Pulaski, a large farm that grows a vast range of organic produce, was also a first-time vendor. Market manager Katie B. Stout said she was surprised by how knowledgeable Watertown residents were about the benefits of organic food.

“Overall, (they) seem to be a lot more educated about their choices as consumers of food” compared to smaller communities, she said. “We don’t have to field as many questions about our prices, which are similar to conventional growers. There were also a lot of kids and women who are looking for healthy food for their families.”

The farm sells organic food year-round to customers in the Watertown area who sign up on its website, www.grindstonefarm.com. Food packages are delivered every Thursday at 1031 Sherman St.

Stories from business owners illustrate that space at the market is in high demand for a good reason, Ms. Farrell said. The chamber makes it a priority to spotlight businesses that sell homemade goods and products made in the area.

“By bringing traffic downtown, it’s going to bring more attention to businesses,” she said. “Everything has to be handmade and grown within our local market.”

Live entertainment on Wednesdays has spotlighted several area groups, including classic rock band Oceans Below, a rock band from Fort Drum and other independent artists.

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