After 30 years in the same location, Red Deer’s popular public market is on the move.
Every Saturday from May to October, thousands make their way downtown to the Red Deer Arena parking lot to enjoy The Market at Red Deer, run by the ever-smiling unflappable Dennis Moffat.
At the end of today’s final market of the season, hundreds of vendors — who hawk their wide variety of food and wares from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. — will say goodbye to the long-held location in order to make way for construction of a new arena in time for the 2019 Canada Winter Games.
The Market at Red Deer’s new home come 2016 will be the Memorial Centre parking lot.
This will take it northeast about 15 blocks from it’s current location at 43rd Street (between 47th and 48th Avenues) to 58th Street (beside 42A Avenue). The new location will be immediately west of Lindsey Thurber Comprehensive High School and north of Ecole Camille J. Lerouge School.
A much-relieved Moffat said he was finally able to determine the new location a week ago after a meeting with a number of the players involved, including representatives from the Memorial Centre, Central Alberta Theatre, Festival Hall, the two high schools and the City of Red Deer.
Moffat, 82, had spent his 45th season of operation worried about where the market would end up. During the summer he checked out numerous locations, running into various obstacles before being able to finalize the Memorial Centre location.
The new area will be smaller so he promises to be more vigorous in patrolling what vendors take for space, he said.
“They’re allowed 10 feet by 14 feet, and we’ll have to ensure that’s what they take, instead of the way it is now. They kind of encroach on their neighbours and eventually they push them out of the way and somebody’s always complaining that there’s no room for them.”
The actual Memorial Centre parking lot is not that much smaller than the main part of the current market, he said.
It’s the west part and road they have now where they will be losing a lot of vendor space. “We’re going to have to be creative and hopefully everybody co-operates.”
The hope is to return to the Arena location in the future. Moffat said he was originally told it would be two years before that could happen but the longest estimate is three years.
“I said how long does it take to build an arena? They must be doing it between coffee breaks.”
He said he intends to do some public relations and visit every residence in the area next May before the market opens. He will invite residents in the area to the market, let them know about their new neighbours, and ask them to let him know if they have any problems.
There will be some events at the schools, including dance school performances, that could conflict with parking, so Moffat anticipates making adjustments as needed. There is a gravel parking lot behind the Memorial Centre that will be used, which is about the same size as the parking lot now across the street from the Arena.
“No problem is unsolvable,” he said.
Moffat has a quick answer, accompanied with a chuckle when asked about when he plans to retire from the market: “When I die.”
He started the public market more than 40 years ago and three of the original vendors are still there — Hank Pluister, the Pine Hill colony, and the McArthur family.
Pluister, 77, said today’s market might be his last. “I’m getting up in age.”
Over the years he has sold various vegetables at the market, grown at his large acreage west of Blackfalds. He had a greenhouse until recently, and sells cabbages, beets, broccoli, beans, and his most popular product, cauliflower.
“I’m taking it one a year at a time. … I told Dennis maybe I’ll be back.” But “just for the heck of it” he did go look at the Memorial parking lot last week.
For vendors to get in and out it will be the same as it is now, Pluister said. He goes to the market at 4 or 5 a.m to set up, and doesn’t get out until about 1 p.m.
The market has changed locations over the years. They started out on the east side of the Arena with about 25 vendors, kept moving to east of the old Bay downtown and south of the post office and once on Ross Street, he said.
The market is at least 10 times bigger than when it started, Pluister said.
There were two milestones in 2015, Moffat said. “This year we had our best market ever, and our worst market ever, so it was kind of an interesting year.”
The cold, wet weather last weekend led to their fewest ever vendors. But they also hit a record of 300 vendors. The busiest Saturday is usually the September Labour Day weekend. Thanksgiving is the second busiest.
Past counts have shown as many as 15,000 people attending the market on a given Saturday, Moffat said. People buy, sell and gawk, but it’s also very much a big happy social event where everyone is always assured of running into someone they know while munching on locally-made delicious pastry or tasty sausage.
About 60 per cent of the vendors sell farmer’s market products, such as baking, produce and meat, and the others sell jewelry, clothes and ready-to-eat food from booths, said Moffat.
“There’s a lady who as soon as she shows up, I know winter is on its way because she sells mittens and gloves.”
Today’s forecast is a high of 18C with some cloud.
“You’re going to see a crowd (today) you probably wouldn’t believe. And you’ll see everybody smiling I think.
“We look forward to seeing them, and hopefully they keep supporting us,” Moffat said.