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Down by the river: Swain farmers market makes a move

fr swainmarketThe Swain County Farmers Market recently enjoyed its final Friday alongside Main Street in Bryson City. After taking a break for the Fourth of July holiday, it will reopen on the other side of the Tuckasegee River.

“In the middle of the season it’s probably going to be a little tough,” said market president Mike Glover.

Vendors are not entirely enthused about the move.

“Did you see the twitch in my eye,” said Audrey Ellington, as she pondered the transition.

Ellington regularly works a table full of gluten-free goodies at Swain’s market. She enjoys the traffic the market sees on U.S. 19 and doesn’t relish the relocation.

“We’ve got to do it, but I don’t prefer it because we’re doing really well here,” Ellington said. “I guess over time it will work out, but to get to that time there’s business we’re going to miss.”

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Swain’s market is moving due to space and safety concerns. It currently takes up real estate in the parking lot of the newly opened historic courthouse museum and also has to contend with traffic generated by a nearby ATM machine.

“It’s nothing that’s new,” said Swain County Manager Kevin King, explaining that the move has been in the works for two years. “We’re so crowded over there most of the time and you’ve got safety risks and that kind of thing.”

The market is being relocated to property across the river on Island Street. It’s a large grassy lot, home to an old barn. 

“It’s going to be aesthetically, I think, better,” King said. “It will take a little bit more signage, but once they get the word out I think it’ll be good.”

That’s what Glover is hoping for. He’s hoping foot traffic can be lured off the downtown thoroughfare and over to the market’s new spot by the river.

“When people get on Everett Street they have a purpose,” Glover said. “We’ve got to get these walkers back over to the market.”

The Island Street property is a few blocks off of Everett, past a rundown stretch, in a collection of apartments, mobile homes and scrap yard expanses full of rusting relics of industrial history.

“It’s kinda dumpy back here,” said Christy Bredenkamp, extension agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Swain, as she piloted her Tacoma toward the barn.

The property sits across the street from an idyllic stretch of the Tuckasegee. An old house near the barn is slated for demolition to make more room for the market.

“Aesthetically, we thought this could be a great site for the long term, but the main problem is visibility.” Bredenkamp said. “I love the river and I love the sound of water. And I love being near the barn. If there was a main road going past it it’d be even better.”

That’s the main concern of market vendors in Swain. They’re afraid they’re about to be hidden from their regular customers, as well as visitors who may have happened upon them on the main road.

“The thing is we get a lot of tourist traffic,” said Wendell Davis, sitting at a booth offering jewelry, goat milk and soap. “They’re not even going to know we’re here.”

A passing customer agreed. She said she found the market by chance after purchasing a cabin in the area.

“Just riding by one day we saw it and stopped in,” said Nancy Butler.

Glover concedes that the visibility and traffic issues are formidable “downsides.” But he’s hoping the market can overcome those hurdles.

“It’s going to be fine,” Glover said, watching over his stand of gourds and vegetables. “We have no choice, we have to.”

And at least the Swain vendors’ last day at their Main Street station was looking good. Customers made the rounds, picking up pastries and fruit and honey. They cruised the tents, finding muffin mix and macramé pot holders. And eggs from chickens, ducks and guineas.

Glover’s stand was swarmed early on.

“That was full of cucumbers,” the market president pointed to an empty basket. “They’re gone.”

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