Buildings old and new give the Pearl Farmers Market an urban vibe. Photo by Page Graham.

It certainly doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but Pearl Farmers Market celebrated its fifth anniversary this week. Having grown from 15 vendors to a current 50 vendors, it has become the undisputed premiere market in San Antonio. You’ve never been before? Be sure to bring your bags – and your appetite.

Why did it become so popular when others have either held steady or faded away? It’s a lucky formula of a great location – which has only gotten better with time – plenty of parking, and a small-town vibe that other locations simply cannot match. Helping the process has been a retooling of city ordinances that made it extremely difficult for vendors to sell freshly prepared foods.

Rain or shine, hot or cold, the vendors are there. This week provided one of those gorgeous days that we all wish for – spring and fall are indeed the best seasons in San Antonio. People responded to the beautiful weather by flocking to the event. There is plenty of parking, but yesterday presented a challenge. Meanwhile, a nearby bicycle rack stood empty. There are many advantages to two-wheeled transportation, and being able to park your ride outside the front door is one of them.

This bicycle rack next to the market is mysteriously empty, while the parking lots are full. Photo by Page Graham.
This bicycle rack next to the market is mysteriously empty, while the parking lots are full. Photo by Page Graham.

Another reason for the Pearl Market’s popularity is that it’s a dog-friendly venue. The surrounding buildings provide enough shade to keep both humans and dogs from overheating in the South Texas sun, yet another reason for the popularity of this venue. In the center of the market is a small green space, lined with cafe tables, giving the event a European flair as people lounged comfortably as their dogs sniffed the legs of passersby.

Live music is always on tap, too. The Colleens provided suitably soothing music next to the Pearl Stable, while families relaxed under the trees in the patio.

Farmers markets aren’t exactly new to San Antonio. El Mercado originally housed an ornate Victorian building from the 19th century, which was replaced by a bland brick building (with a parking lot on top) in the latter half of the 20th century. In recent years, the number of produce vendors there dwindled down to nothing, and it is now a tourist-oriented tienda. Starting in the 1990s, a number of smaller farmer’s markets established themselves around town, but they were very small and focused primarily on local, fresh produce.

While the Pearl Farmers Market (and its sister markets) is relatively new concept for San Antonio, the concept draws from the street markets of Europe. The primary difference is that there is a strong emphasis on foods that are sustainable, local, and organic. The availability of ready-to-eat foods adds a novel variety to the concept.

Sol y Luna employees offer up samples to tempt everyone's palates. Photo by Page Graham.
Sol y Luna employees offer up samples to tempt everyone’s palates. Photo by Page Graham.

Over the last couple of years, several more retailers have appeared on the Pearl landscape. All of this makes for an extremely appealing mix. The line at Local Coffee, for example, was out the door. Baristas worked feverishly to satisfy the demand.

According to the proprietors of The Tiny Finch, a boutique in the middle of the market, business is very good, especially on market days. This sentiment was echoed by a number of vendors, and it was evidenced by the fact that many products were already sold out by 11 a.m. If you want to get the good stuff, it pays to get there early. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., but by the end, many vendors are already closing up shop.

Sol y Luna Bakery is one of the original 15 vendors. The folks working their booth are busy cutting samples and selling loaves of bread. And they are quick to express their love of being at the market.

“It feels like a party every week,” said Sol y Luna’s Anna Gaytan.

More recently, Glenewinkel Brothers of Kingsbury have been selling their locally-raised pork and grass-fed beef products at the market. They have been so successful selling their meats that it’s been a struggle to keep up with demand.

Ward Glenwinkel discusses how things are going at the market. Photo by Page Graham.
Ward Glenwinkel discusses how things are going at the market. Photo by Page Graham.

“We had to sit out from January through March to wait for the pork to get bigger,” said Ward Glenewinkel. Items on their price chalkboard were mostly crossed out – only a few items remained available for sale.

The large turnout also benefits those doing good works, too. The pet adoption booth at SnipSA was a beehive of activity. People holding dogs and cats. Children frolicking with puppies. Kittens playing with one another. Volunteers encouraging folks to pet the animals and fill out the application forms. And it turns out the adoption event is very successful. According to SnipSA’s Bridget Haskell, “We adopt out 20-plus dogs during the farmer’s market. It’s beautiful and awesome.”

Cats, on the other hand, can be more challenging. Only about 2-4 cats are usually adopted during events like this. But what’s true of any animal adoption event is that it’s the puppies and kittens that are easiest to find homes for. Adult pets are always more challenging – please consider an older pet the next time you’re ready to adopt.

Adult pets are much harder to adopt out than puppies and kittens. Photo by Page Graham.
Adult pets are much harder to adopt out than puppies and kittens. Photo by Page Graham.

As the Pearl complex has developed, the Farmers Market has moved its location. Originally, it was in the parking lot next to La Gloria. It then moved into a more central location next to the Boiler House. With the onset of construction in the Brewing House area, that parking lot was closed. As a result, the market now lines the streets next to the boutiques housed in the Can Plant buildings. This incarnation is probably the best, as it gives it a very urban vibe, despite the fact that the buildings are only a couple of years old.

Without a doubt, the Pearl Farmers Market will continue to grow and thrive. We’ll see you there next time.

Tami Kegley contributed to this article.

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Page Graham

Page Graham has been a resident of San Antonio – on and off – for over 30 years now. He has moved into the corporate world, making a living developing training materials and Powerpoint presentations...