Lawrence Holiday Farmers’ Market becoming a tradition for some

Vera Long, left, Lawrence, looks over a vendor's holiday gift items, as her daughter Olive, then 5, hugs her grandfather, Tom Ackerly, Lawrence, in this 2010 photo taken at the Holiday Farmers Market.

There wasn’t a single empty spot in the parking lot in front of the Lawrence Holidome on Saturday afternoon. On the inside, people were bustling around from booth to booth, juggling bags of gifts, sampling holiday treats, catching up with friends and trying to figure out what smell to follow next.

Dianne Johnson, whose mother owns Muriel’s Brittles, summed up the atmosphere.

“It’s organized chaos,” Johnson said.

Johnson and her team were one of about 50 vendors that set up at this year’s Holiday Farmers’ Market. Johnson said that almost every Saturday morning she can remember since the time she was little has been spent running around and setting up at markets. She said that she’s grown up with a lot of the vendors and that the holiday market is a great time to catch up with other vendors and with the public.

“It’s neat to see regulars from the normal downtown summer market,” Johnson said. “It’s just a great event because there is something for everyone.”

And with products ranging from baked goods, fruit jams and fresh vegetables to gift baskets, wreaths, soaps, knitted items to you name it, visitors were sure to find something.

“I’ve already bought two gallons of barbecue sauce,” said Katie Blackburn. “Now I need to find the honey.”

Blackburn has been to the market for three years now, and, chaos and all, said it is a great place to buy gifts, stocking stuffers and treats. While Blackburn was focused on the shopping, her toddler-aged son took a different approach.

“He’s treating it like a buffet,” Blackburn said. “He’s had fudge, dips, candy and lots of things.”

Debbie Milks and her husband, Charles NovoGradac, were selling roasted and fresh chestnuts. She said that they started the business, Chestnut Charlie’s, in 1995 and that the farm now has 1,500 trees. Milks said many people at the market are surprised by the many ways to use chestnuts and by their sweetness. Milks said she is happy to explain the nut to people and enjoys conversing with the shoppers she sees throughout the day.

Tom Stidham and his wife found that splitting up the shopping made the market more manageable.

“I’m the cook at home, so I look for food things,” Stidham said. “My wife is an avid sewer, so she does her own thing.”

Stidham said that he saw some white sweet potatoes he might take another look at, but that the market is just as much a social event as it is a shopping event.

“I enjoy seeing friends and acquaintances,” Stidham said. “It’s sort of like a Lawrence family reunion.”

Jozie Schimke, market chairwoman, said the event was moved to a new location this year to allow for more space and vendors. The hours of the market were also extended. Even with more space and more time, the holiday market was just as packed as ever.

“It’s a tradition people look forward to every year because they can find very local and personalized gifts,” said Johnson of Muriel’s Brittles. “Next year they might have to find an even bigger place.”