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There are places in our lives where we go to reminisce about good times that happened, to connect in those comforting memories. There are destinations we travel to and experience something entirely new, engaging with something different, surprising, and exciting.
For many, a blend of both is right in the heart of Lancaster City: Lancaster Central Market.
You’ve probably heard the history: established in 1730, the oldest, continuously running public farmers’ market in the country features nearly 60 local vendors each week when it opens its doors, welcoming visitors and locals alike to experience a world of local products, global cuisine, and handmade treasures.
But there is more to the legacy that a simple phrase doesn’t capture, a quick motto can’t quite explain.
Central Market has a legacy, both past and current, that has been galvanized by thousands of unique stories shared by those who work, shop, and experience the historic rows where aromas–from whoopie pies to daffodils–dance around each corner.
It’s a watering hole of connection–a hub where neighbors blend with tourists, where customers are best friends with vendors, where a community is a bustling blur of activity each Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday right in the middle of the City we call home.
We had an opportunity to explore just a handful of these stories out of the thousands generated and impacted by Market. We hope you enjoy taking a glimpse into some of these meaningful moments and that by engaging with them it will spark some of your own.
1) Timeless & Trendsetting: The Unique Recipe Making Market Shine
It was 1948 and the sun was rising on an early Market day–sunlight streamed over the side of the building, shadows stretched down to the pathways carving around the base. Tom Hoober, then four years old, was helping his grandmother–Emma Nolt–with her delivery of baked goods to stands at Market.
“I was her left hand man,” says Tom, now 75 and fondly recalling memories steeped with tradition. “I would help her with the baking in her basement. She would say to me ‘Tom, go over there and get some flour for this’ and I would happily do it. I always wanted to be a help for her.”
Grandma Nolt was especially good at baking pies–specifically two that Tom remembers vividly.
“Her two strongest flavors were Shoofly Pie, of course, and then also Montgomery Pie,” says Tom. “But she also baked cakes–marble cakes, angel food cakes, coconut cakes. She did it all.”
Tom remembers the dedication his grandmother had as she continued baking, ensuring there was income that helped the family until his father’s return from the Pacific (Tom’s father was stationed in Guam during the war). Once his dad returned, he helped establish the family livestock commissioning business to further support them.
“My grandmother and I were very close,” he adds. “We spent a lot of time together.”
Tom sat and reflected on the time, memories danced in his eyes. Fast-forward to 2019, and Market looks a little different now.
“It was all Amish or Mennonite goods then,” adds Tom. “Now you can get Spanish food, Greek food, Italian food. I think that is great–it reflects that Lancaster is a welcoming community and represents a lot of diversity.”
It’s a key attribute that makes Central Market a fascinating spot–boasting an assortment of timeless stands and new stands in a blend of old and new, traditional and funky. Market has created a recipe for a shopping experience that is consistently evolving while also honoring what should never change.
One new stand, starting in 2018, is Oola Bowls. It’s a perfect example of something that stands out as featuring a new trend, but still seamlessly blends into the unique Market experience.
“Central Market plays such a role in the culture and identity of the City,” says Joe Ferderbar, co-Owner of Oola Bowls. “We have always held Central Market in such high regard. It is so humbling and cool to be part of it now.”
The team at Oola Bowls is part of a group of newer stands. And although the product may be new to the local landscape–sweet and healthy Acai bowls topped with a variety of options–there is still a common thread throughout the first stands ever to grace the halls of market and recent additions: a drive to support small business.
“Small businesses are a vital part of the local economy,” adds Joe. “Whether it’s providing a product or service that solves a problem or creating jobs, there are so many reasons to invest in small businesses.”
Going back to Tom’s story, the feelings are similar in emphasizing local impact.
“I just hope Market continues to be successful,” adds Tom. “I always appreciate the local ambiance it has, and how it is such a touchstone for Lancaster County natives that have grown up experiencing the history of it.”
“I’m excited for the culture and tradition of Market to continue as our City grows and evolves.”
Tom now attends Market, with fond thoughts of Grandma Nolt’s baked goods, to shop at Groff’s Vegetables, a stand owned by a relative of his where he gets his favorite vegetables.
Meanwhile, a whole assortment of workers Downtown spend Tuesdays and Fridays grabbing their favorite Acai bowl from Oola Bowls for their lunchtime treat.
It’s a recipe of past and present that continues to make Market a kaleidoscope of meaning for generations spanning hundreds of years, where stories are just the beginning.
2) Sharing Connection In The Heart Of The City: More Than A Market
Paige Barr wasn’t planning on meeting her future husband when shopping at Barr’s Farm Produce one Market day.
“I was introduced to Ben through a coworker, who worked at Barr’s Farm Produce, and we just clicked and continued to grow closer,” said Paige Barr. “It was all kind of a blur!”
The couple has been married since October of 2018, and they love to recall that one Market day where their fateful meeting took place—over apples and tomatoes.
Ben Barr began working at the Barr’s Farm Produce stand when he was 12, eventually starting to work full-time after graduating college. Though not everyone meets their future spouse at Market, he notes that connection is something that is happening constantly throughout the hustle and bustle of shoppers and Standholders.
“I see connection happening all the time,” says Ben. “In the mornings, you’ll find groups of people with their coffee and breakfast, chatting at the tables. On nice days, you can find a group of moms catching up on the benches outside while their kids indulge in their sweet Market goodies.”
It’s a trend that permeates the atmosphere, something that you can feel radiating from the corners and pathways around Market.
“When you visit, you’re not just there to do your shopping,” adds Ben. “You’re there to catch up with family and friends. The relationships we’ve built with our shoppers have developed into friendships over time and we look forward to seeing our friends every Market day.”
Not only is connecting with others part of what happens in the four walls of Market, often times it reaches out far beyond them—just ask the team behind Rafiki Shoppe.
Rafiki Shoppe is a stand that offers African cuisine to the many visitors of Market. But it’s more than just a food stand, it’s a place that connects people here locally with those globally who need support through a very powerful mission.
“All of our profits from the stand go back to Rafiki Africa Foundation to support a school in the village of Alendu, Western Kenya, where we provide holistic education,” says Roger Godfrey, owner of the stand. “All of our customers share in this mission through their patronage to Rafiki Shoppe at Central Market.”
It’s this meaningful mission that combines local with global.
“We invite the Lancaster community to try our food and also check our website to find more opportunities to support the cause,” adds Roger. “We wanted to be a social enterprise serving both the community in Lancaster and in Kenya.”
Market is more than what you buy–it is a relational transaction that impacts the entire community.
Daniel Kauffman has owned Kauffmans Fruit Farm stand since August of 2018. It had started back in the late 1920’s, and his dad owned it starting in 1988.
“My great grandfather, grandfather, and my father all worked at the stand,” says Daniel. “It is an honor to be part of that story.”
The stand offers an assortment of fresh fruits such as apples, peaches, pears, and plums, along with apple cider and fruit butters. But there is more offered than just the products.
“It is our goal that every customer who comes to our stand walks away feeling uplifted, encouraged, and valued,” adds Daniel. “We all have struggles in life, and the least we can do at Market is to give our customers more than just a good apple or a cup of cider. Sometimes all it takes is a word of encouragement or a friendly smile. We want our customers to realize how much we appreciate their business and their support of our stand.”
It’s really a win-win, with customers knowing exactly where their food is coming from and supporting local.
“One of my highlights of Market is seeing all the regulars,” says Daniel. “When you have recurring customers, you get to invest in their personal lives and the lives of their families.”
3) Making Headlines: Looking To What’s Next
“Celebrating locality when shopping instills a sense of pride in everyone involved,” says Elyse Pollak, Manager of Communications at Central Market Trust. “A sense of pride for the shop owner that they’re able to provide for their community in a meaningful way, and a sense of pride for the buyer that they’re able to support the livelihood or dream of a fellow community member. That pride emanates, and creates an even stronger sense of community.”
Central Market shows no signs of stopping the positive momentum full of meaningful stories from the 1700’s to 2019 and beyond.
In 2017, CNN named Central Market one of the top 10 farmers’ markets in the entire world. That same year Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Prize laureate, visited Lancaster and stopped by Central Market to experience it while interacting with Omar Al Saife at Saife’s Middle Eastern Food.
Just this year Central Market added a brand new roof to help push towards the sustainability of the building moving forward, while local chefs from restaurants like Horse Inn, Citronnelle, LUCA, and Annie Bailey’s continue to source ingredients from Market stands in true farm-to-table fashion.
Through it all, Market looks to honor past traditions while instilling newness to the place of true connection.
When you stop by you will find Raidel selling fresh guacamole using a recipe passed down for generations, then observe the team behind Maplehofe Dairy offering a vibrant rainbow of milk flavors–including their famous chocolate.
Market is one large story, a huge tapestry of strands each representing a memory, an experience, a connection that it created and fostered. There is an appreciation of what has come before, what is happening now, and what will continue to thrive as Lancaster City marches forward.
Market will be at the forefront, welcoming people each Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday with open doors—and an opportunity to forge stories you’ll never forget.
Interested in reading more? Check out other Central Market stories from Fig Lancaster: