When Kenosha HarborMarket opened 17 years ago there were 18 vendors on one plaza near the lakefront.
On Saturday, the market’s opening day of the outdoor season, the popular market was packed despite the gray, chilly day. At the peak of the season, there will be about 200 vendors each week.
Ray Forgianni, the president of the market’s board of directors, said when the market opened all those years ago he hoped it would grow to resemble the outdoor markets he visited in France.
“I had a vision that it would be something special,” he said. “You realize if you have the right mix (of vendors) you can make it pretty big, and that’s what’s happened.”
The market features a changing menu of fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers throughout the growing season, as well as farmers selling locally sourced meats and vendors selling baked goods, cheeses and preserves. There are homemade dog treats, plants to grow in your garden and art for your home.
Heather Shetler, general manager of the Wright Way Farm, a certified organic farm in Beloit, said the farm has had a stand at the market for six or seven years.
“Everything you can think of to grow we pretty much will bring it and sell it,” said Shetler.
On Saturday, the stand was selling vegetable plants, including tomatoes, to plant in home gardens.
She said the market is one of the more popular that the farm attends.
“It’s a really busy market, and we get a lot of return customers,” she said.
On the south end of the market, 16-year-old N’Kai Tyson was running her father Pierre’s Dildots BBQ stand.
The family-operated business has a restaurant in Racine, a catering business, and has run a stand at the market for three years.
“We’ll have 1,000 people come through,” she said.
Forgianni said the market has become a gathering place for the community.
“We live such hectic lives,” he said. The market, with its mix of food and entertainment and its lakeside setting, is a chance to slow down and socialize.
“It’s something really special that happens here,” he said.
John Quashnock, who lives in the HarborPark neighborhood, said he comes to the market each week and subscribes to a CSA — a community supported agriculture program — through one of the farm vendors.
He said he enjoys being able to walk to the market to pick up fresh vegetables every week.
“It’s local, and there’s less chemicals,” he said.
The outdoor market will be open along Second Ave. from 54th Street to Place de Douai from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday through Oct. 12.