The temperature at my hotel read 28 degrees. The air was calm, no wind, no clouds. It was already 9AM, and I say already because the vendors at the Roanoke City Market had already been there an hour. Despite the fact it was mid-October and frigid, dozens of vendors still set up their produce, baked goods, jars of jam and honey, and loads of arts and crafts. And despite the fact it was mid-October and frigid, the people still flocked to the market. This is probably why this market is the longest continuously used farmers market in Virginia.
The Roanoke City Market (213 Market Street, Roanoke, Virginia | 540-342-2028 | www.downtownroanoke.org/city-market | Free Admission, Average Price for Goods), also known as the Farmer’s Market, began in 1882 when twenty-five vendors, or Hucksters, were granted licenses to sell their goods. In 1886, the first City Market Building was completed. This building formed the core for the Curb Market, or the outdoor area for the farmer’s market, and Market Square, a large parking lot area used for the farmer’s market on the weekend. These three areas combined form the Roanoke City Market today. Although the original building was destroyed by fire and replaced with the current building in 1922. Today, the building hosts a variety of eateries, catering to the growing tourism population in Roanoke.
THE CITY MARKET IS AN OPEN-AIR MARKET with 42 permanent, concrete-style tables along Market Street, protected by awnings overhead. During weekends, more vendors will set up tents and tables in the Market Square. The sidewalks are wide enough for dozens of people to easily move along the market without feeling crowded.
The market operates with permanent, contract-holding vendors who sell their locally-made goods to the general public. One of the conditions of becoming a contract-holder is that the produce must be grown locally, the goods must be produced locally, or the crafts must be made locally. As with many farmer’s markets, the emphasis is on the locals; local vendors selling to local residents (although I noticed quite a few tourists there the same day I visited).
Some of the vendors will set up five days a week, throughout the year. The first time I visited the market was on a Friday; I found about five vendors set up, selling bath soap, photography, and produce. Although it was rather thin pickings on a weekday (especially for a Friday) these long-term vendors still had something to offer. During the warmer, longer days in the summer months you can expect to find many more vendors out here throughout the week. One of the vendors explained to me why there were so few vendors during the colder months: sunlight. Most of them needed to be home before sunset to harvest produce, but by early October there is less than twelve hours of sunlight a day. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to get outdoor work done.
But when I returned on Saturday, it was completely different. Every table was filled with a vendor, several tents and tables had been set up in the Market Square, and well over a hundred people at any given time were milling around. As some of the vendors pointed out, it was a cold morning so this was a low turn out. A quick walk along the street showed me just what is normally available at this market: beautiful jewelry made from silverware, bath soaps and beads, photography and paintings, scarves and purses, baked goods and jams, and loads of fresh produce. Just about any type of vegetable or fruit you can imagine was on a table at this market, grown locally, and just about as fresh as it can get. I tried to take a bag of apples home with me, but I ate them before the end of the day! They were amazingly juicy.
The Roanoke City Market is full of Virginia history and just as relevant today as it was 131 years ago. The vendors were very friendly and took the time to greet the visitors. I even noticed the vendors carrying on conversations amongst themselves, demonstrating more friendship than rivalry. I rarely saw a person walking away without a bag full of something, and I caught more than a few big smiles. Any time I visit a new town or city, I make sure the farmer’s market is one of my first stops. But now I suggest you make this one of your first stops the next time you visit Roanoke.
HERE ARE SOME TIPS to make the best of your trip:
When to Go: Always go early! Restaurant owners and chefs will arrive at 8AM on a Saturday or 10AM on a Sunday to get the best produce. During that time, you will not only get the best produce but you might bump into a chef and learn about a new local restaurant.
How to Get There: The Roanoke City Market is located in the heart of downtown at the intersection of Market Street and Campbell Avenue. Street-side parking is available on all the nearby streets. You can also park at the Center in the Square Garage or nearby Market Garage.
What to See: Be sure you see the entire City Market: start at the Market Square on Campbell Avenue and walk south along Market Street. When you reach the end of the street at Church Avenue, turn around and head back to explore the rest of the Market Square with a few more permanent tables set up on a different street corner.
How Much Does it Cost: Visiting the City Market is free. The produce is on par with most farmer’s markets I have visited in the past. The arts & crafts are mid-range for other markets with some excellent choices.
Best Tip for Best Experience: Visit the City Market during peak harvest time: October. You will find the largest amounts of fresh produce, fall gourds to decorate your home, and loads of arts & crafts.
IF YOU WANT TO SEE MORE PHOTOS of the Roanoke City Market and of the City of Roanoke, please visit my website at http://jasonbarnette.photoshelter.com/gallery/Roanoke/G0000NQj_._8ORnY/C0000kaoz.gHp75k