Shirley Sponsler, president and organizer of the weekly Sparks Farmers’ Market and several other local farmers’ markets, used this metaphor to describe how her “baby” farmers’ market has undergone changes in its 20-year existence — their newest change being one of the most difficult.
The Sparks Farmers’ Market is returning to Victorian Plaza on Thursdays during the summer for the second consecutive year, a venue change from the street-long market that stretched along Victorian Avenue.
“Anytime you make a change it’s hard,” Sponsler said. “But this is a change we are trying to make for the benefit of the entire market.”
The move to the plaza serves to accommodate a more family-oriented environment by containing the market for easy navigation and viewing. Vendors and booths encircle the property and allow customers to view several booths at a time.
“When the market went up and down the street people would enter at different points, visit a vendor or two and not make it to the end of the street to see what else we had,” Sponsler said. “Some people like to walk around the whole thing first to see what is available then start shopping. With the new setup we make that very easy.”
John Ascuaga’s Nugget has been alongside Sponsler since the inception of the Sparks event 20 years ago. Nugget representatives believe the new layout and philosophy will benefit the market in the future.
“We have brought the focus back to the food aspect of the market,” said Missy Hinton, public relations manager for the Nugget. “We have brought back the cooking demos that we used to do several years ago and we have received a lot of comments from people who really like that.”
Hinton and Sponsler agree that the earlier start time and limiting of alcohol vendors has brought more families accompanied by strollers and young children to the event. The push for the market to improve upon its success will come from focusing on entertaining the children.
“As we speak, we are looking into ways to help bring in more entertaining things for families and something interactive for the kids,” Hinton said, adding that the details of their projects are still in the works.
“We want something that will be educational for them as well as something fun for them to do,” Sponsler said. “This is a great opportunity for them to learn about nutritional diet, farming and agriculture and the production of food.”
In her efforts to limit the amount of alcoholic beverages being sold to patrons at the market, Sponsler has also partnered with Great Basin Brewing Company and Cantina Los Tres Hombres, both of Sparks. The two companies will alternate weeks serving beer while the Nugget holds a margarita stand near the entrance of the casino.
“I have had requests for more alcohol vendors but I think we have a good balance now. With an evening market, people will want to enjoy a beer after they’ve gotten off work, but we don’t want it to be the main focus of the market,” Sponsler said.
The family-driven environment has allowed for market-goers to expect a setting focused on shopping rather than drinking — a reputation that Sponsler knows will take time for customers to adjust to.
“A reputation is lost in one day and it takes a long time to get it back,” she said adding that the shopping environment will give people reason to continue to visit the market. “I would rather have an empty space than have the wrong people coming to a place.”