As the month of October came to an end, so did the season for most of the farmers markets in the area.
But Bryan Lehr, a Columbia farmer who took over the management of Belleville’s Old Town Market this year, wasn’t ready to call it a day just yet.
Lehr reached out to Erik Busch, the owner of LongStory Coffee just south of downtown on Illinois Street, where a new winter market will be held starting this weekend.
Lehr said in an interview he still has some produce that survived the recent freeze (turnips, kale, sweet potatoes …) as well as fresh eggs, jams and other goods.
As the season neared its end for Belleville Farmers Market (as it’s currently known), he knew he needed a new way to get his remaining goods to the people.
One of his regular customers, a barista at LongStory Coffee, suggested the coffee shop as a possible venue.
I sat down with Busch at the Belleville coffee shop to learn more about this collaboration with Lehr.
Busch said the downtown Belleville market has lost vendors over the last few years. Fewer vendors mean fewer customers, which in turn led to more vendors leaving, resulting in even fewer customers, according to Busch. It was a snowball effect.
Always open to helping fellow business owners, he was happy to help.
A joint effort
At first, the idea was for Lehr to set up a stand at LongStory Coffee over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, said Busch. Before he knew it, Lehr had added more vendors.
Lehr said there would be at least four vendors for the first market on Nov. 18.
Lehr is also holding the market the same weekend as the flea market at the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds in the hopes of attracting some of that crowd. The flea markets are held the third full weekend of each month.
Lehr said if all goes well throughout the winter, the move to LongStory could be a permanent, year-round arrangement.
While working with Busch to open the winter market is a joint effort to get it started, Lehr said Busch is in charge because, after all, LongStory is his business.
It’s a new market in a new place at a new time, said Lehr.
Busch said he didn’t think about it being a permanent move but is willing to see how things go.
Should the market prove successful and become ongoing into next year’s market season, Busch already has some ideas, including a new name for the market, which is still in the works.
He is considering using the small garage in LongStory’s back parking lot, perhaps as a shelter for the market’s customers during inclement weather.
The building needs work, but Busch said he already got the OK from the property’s owner, Jerry Dinges, provided Busch covers the expense.
He also said he’s not taking over the market but is a fan of letting it happen “organically.”
His main request is that the market highlights artisans, including artists in ceramics, stained glass and other media, as well as farmers, bakers and other vendors.
The market at LongStory will be smaller than other markets, like O’Fallon’s Vine Street Market (at which LongStory is a vendor) or the Tower Grove Farmers Market in St. Louis.
Those markets can be intimidating to potential vendors, Busch said. There’s a higher cost to participate, and vendors have to commit well in advance to a time frame.
He described the winter market at LongStory as a small rotation market, with different vendors each month, and hopes that Lehr will help spearhead the events.
Lehr isn’t working to find vendors on his own. He said that vendors from different area markets, including Lizzie Bob’s owner Elizabeth Toepfer, are asking around to see if others are interested in participating in the market this winter.
Space is limited, said Busch, but they’ll make it work. He said that with fewer vendors, they could set up on the brick walkway in front of the building.
If there are more vendors, they would utilize some of the back parking lot between the building and High Street.
So why LongStory?
As far as joining with LongStory, Lehr said, “It’s kind of a no-brainer,” since they already share customers.
Holding the market at LongStory would make it convenient for their shared customers as well as attract new ones that already frequent either of the two businesses.
Busch said sometimes he’ll stop by the market on the way to LongStory and see customers at Lehr’s tent with coffee from his place. Or he’ll see them at the coffee shop after seeing them earlier at the farmers market.
This new winter market is open to anyone, even if it competes directly with his business.
“If Lizzie Bob’s Bakery outsells us for four hours straight, we need to step up our bakery game,” said Busch.
He said the same goes for any coffee roasters who want to sell at the winter market. He needs that competition to grow and to be better.
“You can give somebody a chance for four hours, once a month,” he said.
About the winter market
The winter market at LongStory Coffee will take place from 8 a.m. to noon on the third Saturday of the month November through April.