Walking a few blocks or shelling out a bit of cash was little more than a minor inconvenience for the throngs of shoppers who crowded into the Red Deer public market on Saturday morning.
The extra walk and the premium pricing are worth it for top-quality fruits, vegetables and meats and all of the other merchandise and services offered on the parking lot, lawns and street in front of the Red Deer Arena, said people who were filling carts and shopping bags with food, handcrafts, jewelery and an assortment of other stuff.
Bigger than ever, the Red Deer public market has spread in three directions from the parking lot it first occupied, putting more pressure on streets and adjoining parking lots, including the big spaces at the Red Deer Lodge Hotel.
Susan and Scott Grant of Saskatoon, in town for a tennis tournament and visiting the Red Deer market for the first time, said they were more than happy to pay $2 to park close by, especially knowing that their money would support local charities. A hotel employee directing traffic at the entrance confirmed that cash collected from market shoppers is sharing parking income with the Red Deer & District SPCA and the Canadian Red Cross.
Regular shoppers at other markets, including Calgary and Saskatoon, the Grants said Red Deer was well beyond anything they had expected to find, both in terms of the number of vendors and in the quality and variety of merchandise being offered.
“It’s busier than I ever thought Red Deer would be, for sure,” said Susan.
“It’s a great way to spend Saturday morning,” said Scott.
Not only was Red Deer bigger than he had expected, there was more focus on people selling their own products, and the vendors have come from quite a way out, he said, pointing to a booth from Drumheller.
He described parking as a “piece of cake.”
Susan’s brother, Red Deer resident Glenn Lloyd, said parking is a bit more of a hassle when you’re trying to park a full-sized pickup truck.
On-street parking was further complicated by curb construction along the main road leading between the hotel and the arena.
The goods are expensive and you have to walk quite a ways, but it’s worth it, said Serena Handford of Innisfail.
Handford cannot get to the farmer’s markets that are closer to her because they take place during the week, when she has to work. Instead, she drives to Red Deer, parks about three blocks down the road, and then walks back with her bags full.
“Nothing’s cheap here. That’s the only thing I don’t like about this. The cherries, you can definitely tell the difference. They’re a lot bigger here, whereas you go to the store and their smaller — not as tasty, either.”
Handford said she makes a point to arrive as early as possible, because parking is “a nightmare” by about 11 a.m.
There’s lots of parking at 7 a.m., said Nadine Cowles, who was helping in her mother’s booth for the day.
The new strip along the street has cut into the space available for parking, said Cowles. But parking woes don’t seem to have had any impact on the people attending the market, she said.
“It’s always full, and they find a way to get here. It’s full every week, unless the weather’s terrible, then it scares a lot of certain people away, but there’s the ones that are always here,” said Cowles.
Fruit and vegetable growers attending the market said they’ve had a pretty good summer so far.
Paul Hofer from the Pine Hill Hutterite Colony, west of Penhold, said they had to irrigate their garden plots at the start of the season, but everything is now growing very nicely.
“It was slow at first, but after that it just took right off,” said Hofer.
“Our best markets are Lacombe, Innisfail, Sylvan Lake and then here,” he said. From a vegetable vendor’s perspective, the farmer’s markets are preferable because they are restricted to products that are offered by the people who produce them. At the public market, anything goes, said Hofer.
Pine Hill Colony has been attending the Red Deer Public Market since its inception, more than 40 years ago, he said.
Susanna Neumann of Innisfail Growers said their farms have been having “not too bad” a year.
“We’re missing our peas and beans. They had hail a couple of weeks ago that really hurt the crop bad.”
Neumann said the earlier plants suffered most from the hail and are not likely to produce much, but the growers are hoping for good results from later plantings.
Red Deer Public Market is open on Saturdays from 8 a.m. until noon, running through to and including the Thanksgiving weekend. The market sets up in the parking lot north of the Red Deer Arena, at 47th Avenue and 43rd Street.