Throngs of visitors from throughout the region turned out to help the South Shore Sunday Market kick off a new season.
About 40 vendors returned Sept. 30 after the monthly market's three-month summer hiatus to lure shoppers with fresh farm produce, homemade baked goods, prepared foods and handcrafted items.
"I'm so excited it's back; I invited a friend from Tallahassee," said Sue Detweiler of Apollo Beach. "I appreciate all the unique stuff and the genuine sense of community I find here. There's nothing like it in all of South Shore."
Vendors shared her enthusiasm.
"This is my second year here," said Marni Atherton, owner of 20 Shekels Bread in Largo. "We participate in six different markets right now, and even though it takes me longer to get here, this one is my favorite. The community is so supportive."
"We're thrilled to be here," said Susan Bishop of Wimauma, owner of Mabry's Online Market and co-owner of My Mother's Garden. "This is our first time here, and we're doing very well. It's great having a convenient local venue where we can sell products and meet customers."
That's important to small and home-based businesses, said John Smith, who co-owns two H&R Block franchises in South Shore.
"It provides low-cost start-up and positively affects economic development in the community," he said. "And it gives people in the area something to look forward to every month."
Market organizers Melanie Morrison of Apollo Beach and Michael Parker of Ruskin already are looking beyond the market's first anniversary celebration Oct. 28.
"We hope to have a huge turnout," Morrison said. "We haven't finalized our plans yet but we're going to do something special.
"We had a terrific start last year and learned this market is a perfect fit for the community," she said. "The support is definitely here and we will certainly build on that."
That includes some changes.
As the number of vendors and visitors increased last season, Morrison and Parker decided to change the practice of limiting product duplication. For example, this season there are several bakers; that means competition and, often, lower prices.
Still the pair is choosy about what kinds of booths are allowed.
"We don't want this to turn into a flea market," Parker said. "We review all applications and put them through a screening process to determine if the (proposed) product is a good fit."
They are considering possible alternative locations that potentially could attract a wider audience of visitors and vendors from other parts of South Shore.
"We'd like to take this to the next level by surrounding the market with activities like block parties, bake-offs, band jams and clam bakes," Parker said. "The idea is to create even more interest and breathe new life into the community."
"We want area residents to stay here and do things in the community and to be able to draw others from outside," Morrison added.
The market's proceeds go to Forward Thinking Initiatives, the market's not-for-profit sponsor. So far everything has gone back into operational expenses, Morrison said, but the ultimate goal is to use any profits to benefit local cultural and community events.
The South Shore Sunday Market takes place the last Sunday of the month at the corner of U.S. 41 and Shell Point Road, Ruskin, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For information, call Morrison at (813) 732-5338; Parker at (813) 846-2000; or email southshoresundaymarket@gmail .com.