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Saturday, Apr 19, 2014

Grand Prix disrupts St. Pete farmers market for two weeks


With the Honda Grand Prix coming to town next weekend, regular events such as the Saturday Morning Market must adjust.

The weekly market moved Saturday from the Al Lang Stadium parking lot to the smaller Synovus Bank lot a few blocks away. Next weekend, the market will shut down for the race, which will encircle the stadium.

Moving to a smaller location meant scaling back the market, which can accommodate as many as 130 vendors. Eighty-five signed up for Saturday, with some craft and food vendors dropping out, as well as all of the usual plant vendors, who bolted for a large plant show elsewhere.

Although Saturday’s market featured vendors, music and most of the usual farmers’ booths, it wasn’t the event organizers are used to hosting during peak season.

“It just wouldn’t fit everything we have,” said market manager Gail Eggeman. “It’s just different.”

Nevertheless, it was no less festive than the usual ones at Al Lang Stadium. The market offered the same laid-back vibe that draws thousands of people every week, along with staple vendors such as the tall man in a top hat selling barbecue and the kid calling out to passers-by about the fresh pineapple he was coring.

The past four years, the market went back to Central Avenue, where it started, when it moved to accommodate the race. Organizers didn’t notice a drop in numbers, and some people even preferred Central Avenue to Al Lang Stadium, Eggeman said. But organizers couldn’t get a permit to move there this year.

“We’ll be back on Central next year,” she said.

The interruption in the market’s schedule underscores the frustrations the race brings for downtown events, businesses and residents. Crews began building the Grand Prix’s 1.8-mile course on Feb. 15, closing off blocks of Bayshore Drive, and the track won’t be dismantled completely until April 5.

“Why do we have to have the Grand Prix in the prettiest time of the year?” Eggeman said. “Why don’t they come in August, when we could use some visitors?”

Race officials say they have taken steps to minimize the effect on downtown, shortening the setup time and leaving openings in the course until days before the race to provide access to businesses.

The Saturday Morning Market will return to Al Lang Stadium on March 30.

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