Farmers markets integral part of life for local merchants
The Santini Farmers Market and Beach Baptist Farmers Market are not just sideshows for vendors looking to unload some goods to help pay the bills. These farmers markets on Fort Myers Beach host merchants who make a living selling everything from sandwiches to vegetables, desserts, books, jewelry and handmade home dcor.
For Billy and Bridgett Graham, the farmers markets have been lifesavers. They run their “Squeezers of Cape Coral” lemonade and food stand every Tuesday and Thursday at Santini Plaza at 7205 Estero Boulevard. On Wednesdays, they are at the Beach Baptist Farmers Market at 130 Connecticut Street.
A decade ago, the Grahams were victims of the Great Recession, which led to them closing their family-owned Napa Auto Parts businesses in Lehigh Acres and Immokalee. “We lost everything,” Mr. Graham said.
“We decided we wanted to do some traveling,” Graham said. “We wanted people to be happy when they came to see us, not upset that they just had a car problem,” Mrs. Graham said.
They started selling lemonade as they traveled across the country and eventually decided to start selling food as well. “We made it to Colorado and back,” Mr. Graham said. “We went to Georgia, Kansas, to rodeos and county fairs.”
Their menu now includes Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, Philly cheesesteaks, snowcones and smoothies.
“We’ve met a lot of different people. It’s been a blessing,” Mr. Graham said. “People help out each other,” Mrs. Graham said. The “Squeezers of Cape Coral” can also be found Sundays at Koreshan State Park in Estero.
Linda Miller, the organizer of the Fort Myers Beach farmers markets, said there is a waiting list to sell at the market. One vendor waited two years to get a spot at the Santini Farmers Market.
Miller sells wire-strung jewelry, hand-wrapped earrings, pearl necklaces and more than 200 gemstones from amethyst to aquamarine to jasper and turquoise. “We research the healing properties of each of the stones,” Miller said. She makes most of the jewelry herself. “I’ve always liked working with my hands,” she said.
A Dunedin native who lives in Bonita Springs, Miller has been running these farmer’s markets for the past four years and has been making jewelry for the past seven years. She previously spent her career working in retail management. “We saw a need for weekday farmer’s markets,” Miller said. “It works out well because the tourists and retirees need something to do.”
The Santini Farmers Market has a distinct international flavor. One of the most popular spots at Santini Plaza during a recent stop was the Cubano Cafe which features Cuban sandwiches, steak sandwiches and fruit juice. Other popular sports at Santini include Karina’s Kitchen, which specializes in Hungarian deep-fried flatbread.
Debbie Alford’s Pink Llana Studios table sparkles with painted bottles and glasses. One of the more colorful booths is occupied by Turkish dealer Denis Gol who sells handmade crochet art. There is something for everyone at the market from handmade soaps to hair clips and handmade hair wraps.
Naples-based children’s author James Zwerneman also has a regular booth, where he sells books from his series “The Adventures of Ta and Boddington.”
The Santini Farmers Market is held every Tuesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m while the Beach Baptist Farmers Market runs every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.