SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City's biggest outdoor farmers market closed out its 27th season Saturday with sunshine, pumpkins for sale and a poodle in costume for a Halloween contest.
Construction in Pioneer Park has colored the market differently this season, forcing it to forgo a central music stage and cutting off a walkway through the center of the park. The change has troubled some food vendors who saw less foot traffic this year.
"The construction definitely forced us to change our flow and the layout of our food," said Alison Einerson, director of the Downtown Farmers Market. In summer, crews put up a fence blocking the public from the park's center as they clear out sycamore trees and make way for a multipurpose lawn.
The renovation has had no detectable effect on attendance, Einerson said. Based on sales numbers reported by vendors, she estimates that at least 150,000 people and up to 175,000 visited between June and October. And sales are up about 10 percent from last year.
But Brian Passey and Parker Jenkins, part of the team operating MaMa Linda's Chile Verde, believe some would-be diners have been turned off by the fenced-in area with exposed dirt. They have sold burritos and other pork-filled plates at the market for 17 years, and say business has slowed after the construction cut off a main artery through the park in July.
"It's just been really inconvenient," Jenkins said. The booth typically goes through three pots of pork to meet demand on Saturdays, but now are making their way through about two.
Farmers, whose stands are stationed on the perimeter of the park, have largely been unaffected by the construction.
"I haven't noticed it," said John Borski, who has sold produce from his farm in Kaysville at the market for 25 years. "I've had as good a year as I've ever had."
He and his wife, Heather Borski, joined by their dog Sway, an 11-year-old Australian shepherd, sold garlic and fingerling potatoes to marketgoers early Saturday.
Competition, more than construction, has posed an issue for their business, John Borski said.
An early adopter of organic farming methods, Borski began selling produce to Salt Lake City restaurants almost three decades ago, and later joined about 10 other farms bringing fruits and vegetables to the market on Saturday mornings, routinely selling out by noon.
He has turned to specialty crops to stay competitive, pedaling gourds that he also uses to make and sell birdhouses, along with fresh mint and rosemary, arugula and heirloom potatoes. It's a much different line of work than his first career as a dancer with the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. When he decided to leave ballet behind, he said, he was drawn back to his family's land in Davis County.
Even as competition from other farmers has risen over the years, so has a sense of community, he said. He barters with other vendors at the market, trading them vegetables for bread and pastries.
"This is about small farms just trying to get by and working hard, making a living," Borski said.
Linda Hart, who makes and sells jewelry she fashions from vintage tin, said she had concerns about how the construction might affect business and was disappointed to see beautiful, mature trees cut down to make way for the lawn. The construction is close to stands of craftsmen and women selling artwork, jewelry and other wares.
Still, she said, business this year has been good for her. And despite the park's perception as a sometimes unsavory environment, she said, "I just feel like it's a really safe place to be."
Dani Plothow, a nurse who lives in Salt Lake City, said she often comes to the market on Saturdays when she's not working.
"I love the atmosphere," she said as she waited for the pet costume contest to begin. Plothow was dressed as Russell from the animated movie "Up," and her miniature Pinscher, Indiana, as the house from the movie that is carried across the sky by balloons. A poodle dressed as a taco and a black lab wearing fairy wings also waited for the competition to begin nearby.
Over the past decade or so, several other farmers markets have popped up around the city, noted Einerson, the director of the downtown market. But she believes the expansion is a good thing.
"Our mission is to support agriculture in Utah," she said. "We're not competitive. We're collaborative."
The market has four full-time employees and 10 seasonal workers, with funding coming from sponsors and it cut of vendor sales, plus some assistance from Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, she said.
Those who enjoy picking up produce, a treat or other goods at the weekly market will still be able to do so come Nov. 10, when the smaller, weekly winter version at the Rio Grande Depot opens.
The winter market takes place weekly on Saturdays from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m.