By MIKE SAKAL
For the Miami Valley Sunday News
DAYTON — There’s no place like the Second Street Public Market in downtown Dayton for the holidays.
But in all reality, the Second Street Public Market at 600 E. Second St., which now is in its 17th year and attracts 300,000 visitors year-round, is a place for all seasons for Miami Valley residents and those in town visiting looking for something new and fun to do.
And if you haven’t gone there yet to check out the dozens of local vendors and their wares ranging from fresh produce, farm-fresh chicken and pork and eggs, dairy products, pastries, household goods, barbecue sauces and gluten-free breads — and spices for those meals, the market is well worth visiting.
You just might see someone you know as the market features numerous vendors from Miami County, including KJB Farms and Dohner’s Maple Syrup Camp, both of West Milton, Hydro Growers of Pleasant Hill, Verticle Farms of Tipp City and Garber Farm of Greenville in Darke County.
The market is a family-friendly and all-inclusive attraction with Old World flare for the region said 16-year market manager Jimmy Harless of Five Rivers Metro Parks, which has overseen the market since 2009.
“It’s a community gathering place,” said Harless who is retiring at the end of this year. Linda Suda, marketing coordinator of the market, plans to become its next manager.
It started out with a small group of vendors in the parking lot of Wegerzyn Garden Center on Siebenthaler Avenue in the 1990s and later moved to the parking lot of the Cannery building near East Third Street and Wayne Avenue.
In its current and permanent location, The Second Street Public Market definitely has found a found a niche for growers, bakers and culinary specialists. The historic building originally housed Webster Station with an area for trains on one side and a loading dock for trucks on the other side. The market has been a key part of the downtown’s resurgence with the Dayton Dragons baseball team at nearby Fifth Third Field and Riverscape.
Suda said that if Riverscape is the front porch of downtown and Fifth Third Field is the living room, then the Second Street Public Market is downtown’s “kitchen” of all its metro parks.
“The market is where it’s all happening,” Suda said. “It has been a huge success and has become a destination location. The market provides a sense of community for the patrons and vendors. Not too many towns the size of Dayton has a market like this.”
“The market generates a lot of excitement and it’s something a lot of the regulars look forward to on the weekend,” Suda said.
The Wegerzyn name remains a big part of the market as it continues to have a space for the Wegerzyn Garden Foundation’s Gift and Garden Shop.
Plus, if you want to meet up with a friend for a cup of coffee from Caffeine Carl’s and a bowl of soup from All Souped Up for lunch and people watch, there’s a food court there and something for everybody. Overall, there are 11 food vendors and 45 market vendors to enjoy.
“It’s become a popular place for Baby Boomers and Millenials, who come here to meet,” Harless said. “We’re also seeing more young couples coming through with baby carriages. Our busiest time is in the summer as we include an outside market and live music, but attendance has been growing in the fall and winter and as we remain festive, especially during the holidays season.”
Not only has Harless seen the market “grow up,” as it is approaching “adulthood,” so to speak, he has noticed a growing number of regulars shopping at the market who have built a rapport with the vendors through the years.
“Quality and selection are up,” Harless added.
Jean Mattis of KJB Farms in West Milton, is one of the vendors who has been at the market all 17 years and has expanded her inventory. KJB Farms is named for Kenny and Jean Mattis and her Brubaker children who have helped her in the business.
Jean actually began setting up shop with a cooler full of sausage, some large brown farm-fresh eggs and bags of cracklins during the summer farmers market formerly at Wegerzyn Garden Center. She later made available a wide variety of chicken, pork and lamb selections with farm-fresh eggs, bacon, bratwurst, whole chickens and Chorizo becoming popular items at the Second Street location.
“I often tell people I came with the building,” Mattis jokingly said. “When I started setting up, one thing led to another. Customers like our products, and I like the people. I enjoy it.”
All of the animals on KJB Farms are grain fed, or natural.
What keeps bringing Mattis back to the market each year?
“Success,” she said. “People like to buy local, know the farmer and know where the food is coming from. Being at the market has been a fun thing to do. The kids of customers who were little when they started coming to the market now are bringing their kids.”
In another labor of love, one of the vendor’s products comes from a tree: maple syrup.
Dean Dohner and his wife, Carol, of West Milton, also have set up at the market for all 17 years. For the last 35 years, the Dohners with the help of their daughter Sarah Niswonger, tap about 700 trees supported by about 8 miles of tubing running through their woods that can produce 130 gallons of sap an hour. During the maple syrup season it takes about 45 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup.
“When people come down to the market and taste the maple syrup, it brings back memories,” Niswonger said. “I remember making maple syrups with my grandparents, and when people come through the market, they share similar memories.”
“The market is great exposure for all the vendors to showcase what they do,” Niswonger added. “McDonald’s used to be the place to go for breakfast, but in downtown Dayton, it’s the Second Street Market.”
“If you haven’t come down to the market to visit us, take the time to do so,” Niswonger said. “You’ll enjoy it.”
And as the market continues to remain a staple for its regulars or become one for new shoppers, Niswonger’s message is one that market managers also have been preaching to those out there who haven’t discovered it, yet.
“Whether you live in downtown Dayton or its suburbs, we encourage you to come down to the market,” Harless said.
“We’re sure you’ll find something here you’ll like that you’ll want to take home.”