Just like the city that grew up and all around it, the Alpharetta Farmers Market has successfully made the transition from small-town draw to suburban icon, attracting vendors and visitors from throughout the region each Saturday from April through October.
After years operating off a downtown spur on Canton Street, the market recently made the move across Main Street to the City Center to accommodate its expanding group of booths and shoppers.
There, visitors to the Alpharetta Farmers Market continue to enjoy fresh, locally sourced farmers’ products, while surrounded by acres of green space, restaurants and shopping.
Nearly 90 vendors spread out across the green expanse and streets that crisscross City Center during the market’s season opening April 13.
With its full roster of vendors and status as a top-tier market, today’s Alpharetta Farmers Market is a far cry from the early days of the event. About 15 years ago, a small group of downtown business owners brought a community suggestion for a farmers market from an idea to reality in a short time.
“At the inception, the [planning] group knew nothing about a farmers market and literally winged it,” said Margo Attig, co-owner of Nature’s Rainbow flower shop and Village Veranda coffee house with her husband, Larry. “We really never thought about how large it could be … it just seemed to grow organically.”
The Alpharetta Farmers Market first opened in 2006 in the city parking lot behind Smokejack Restaurant, with Grimes Produce from Roswell, a local salsa maker and a booth of flowers from the Attigs' downtown shop as the official vendors.
“We dreamed of [eventually having] 20 farmers,” said Attig, who laughed how quickly that number was reached and surpassed.
While the Attigs continue to be involved in the farmers market, the overall responsibility for the event falls under the Alpharetta Business Association (previously known as the Downtown Alpharetta Business Association), which sponsors it.
Peg Hussing, owner of EcoShredding in Alpharetta and president of the ABA, has been active in the market operations for the past several years. She, along with Carol Anderson-Wood, the longtime market manager, helped nurture the Alpharetta Farmers Market as it continued to expand, and eventually grow, beyond its borders on Canton Street.
The decision to move the market from Canton Street to City Center was not made lightly, but was prompted by reality. For years, the market was set up along Old Canton Street, about two blocks west of its current location in the City Center. But impending construction on the new Cotton House Hotel on Milton Avenue prompted the ABA to find another location for the market.
Planning for the inevitable began a few years ago, and Hussing said that after initial concern, the benefits have far outweighed the negatives.
“In hindsight, what a difference [the move] made,” she said. “We were so crowded with wall-to-wall people and vendors. It was a wonderful space, but now we have [better space] for vendors going up and down [Broad Street], looking out to downtown, toward City Hall to the roundabout.”
As president of the ABA, Hussing understands store owners on the east side of downtown, where the Alpharetta Farmers Market stood for years, have concerns about the move.
“Many depended on the foot traffic from the farmers market,” Hussing said. “But with the new hotel opening, and a greater number of people visiting downtown in general, I think the foot traffic will continue.”
Like many longtime residents and business owners in the area, she had long dreamed of an active and vibrant downtown area. She knew the area was a hidden jewel that housed a vast array of shops and events — and unlimited potential — within its boundaries.
“As a homeowner and a resident for about 30 years within walking distance of downtown, for so long, I wanted [a variety] of restaurants and activities you could walk to like in other cities,” said Hussing. “I also learned you should be careful what you ask for.”
She said she loves the vibrancy of downtown Alpharetta these past few years, but like many, also has concerns about traffic issues and affordable housing in the area.
“For me, it’s been just a fabulous [transition], and I love walking downtown on a Saturday afternoon to watch the kids play in the green space and the [interaction] between the business owners and the public,” said Hussing. She said one restaurant owner near City Center provides balls for the kids to play with in the green space near his location.
With the market’s spring 2019 opening a success, Hussing, Anderson-Wood and the team behind the event now turn their attention to maintaining the momentum and future planning.
“The farmers market now has 100 vendors and receives applications daily,” said Margo Attig, of Latitude 34 PR, which represents the event. “The city is trying to maintain a balance of vendors that they believe the community wants.”
Hussing believes the Alpharetta Farmers Market could ultimately expand to as many as 150 vendors over the next few years, making it one of the top markets in the area.
To stay relevant and in touch with trends, Larry and Margo Attig visit farmers markets throughout the country on their travels, and bring back new ideas to Alpharetta.
“Overall, the success of the market can be attributed to the citizens of Alpharetta,” said Margo Attig. “The market has become a great social gathering for the community, including families with kids, empty-nesters and young couples who bring their dogs down to enjoy the market.”