Text and photos by Robin Heyden
When I first heard that San Luis Obispo’s weekly farmers’ market was held in the evening, I thought, “how odd.” I think of going to markets as a daytime event–up and at ‘em early, procure your produce for the dinner ahead. Besides, how would I be able to see everything in the near dark?
On Thursday night when we arrived, I was delighted to see SLO’s main downtown boulevard, Higuera Street, ornamented with twinkly white lights, wrapped around the trees that line the street.
More powerful lighting fixtures were strategically placed between stalls, solving the problem I anticipated. Everything could easily be seen and the whole place had a festive air.
The market covers roughly six blocks of Higuera Street (from the corners of Marsh to Ossos streets) with local vendors coming in from the surrounding San Luis Obispo county. There was tremendous variety among the stalls – fruits & veggies, lavender, olive oil, bread, soaps & lotions, and even a few jewelry and knickknacks.
In addition to vendors with fresh produce, there were quite a few selling prepared foods. We had no problem foraging for our dinner as we made our way down the street. Bar-B-Q seems to be the mainstay offering with, by my count, six different tasty vendors.
Their open fires and sizzling grills add color and a delicious smell to the event. My favorite walk-and-eat was the roasted corn, delivered on a wooden spear, dipped in hot butter and then slathered with toppings of your choice (chili peppers, salt, pepper, mustard, mayo). Eclairs, crêpes, and ice cream were on hand for dessert.
In addition to the food, there are street artists and musicians at each intersection providing entertainment and atmosphere. A jumpy castle at one end was a draw for families and what kid (or adult, for that matter) could resist checking out Bubblegum Alley to observe the impressive, er, collection stuck to the walls (eewwww).
I noticed a number of local stores had market booths, often positioned just in front of their actual store location. What a great way to remind customers about your store and feature a market-oriented subset of inventory.
The SLO Downtown Association, the market’s organizers, have posted unambiguous rules of the road: no alcohol and no dogs. I suppose with a night-time market, they have to be a bit more careful.
It’s interesting to see the “town and gown” mix at the market. SLO (locals always call the town “SLO”, pronounced “slow”) is a college town with California State University, San Luis Obispo (enrollment = 19,000 ) right in the center. At the market we saw families, college students, professionals, and cowboys all mixed happily together.
Robin Heyden is a freelance writer and education consultant based in Alameda, CA. She blogs about participatory media and virtual worlds and their connection to teaching and learning.