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Local vendors have big plans to bring fresh produce, crafts to downtown Dover

Farmers market vendors to join forces for potential shop near Bayard Pharmacy

Emily Lytle
Dover Post

Honey, fresh flowers, kettle corn, pork, eggs, lettuce, candles, fresh breads and pastries may all soon be available to community members at a  new business proposed for a vacant space in downtown Dover. 

About 10 agricultural and craft vendors are interested in coming together to create a permanent market in part of the Bayard building at 204 W. Loockerman St., which has been empty for several years.

The idea arose from the Unlock the Block initiative, a group including the Downtown Dover Partnership, the National Council on Agricultural Life & Labor Research Fund, and other community organizations that have focused on revitalizing the storefronts on Loockerman Street.

When they presented the idea to Dave Hugg, director of planning and inspections, he said he was excited about it. 

The outside of 204 W. Loockerman St. where multiple vendors and the Downtown Dover Partnership are planning to create a permanent food and crafts market.

Not only does the business plan to use a 1,200-square-foot vacant space, but he said it could fill a need in an area that is often considered a food desert due to few options for fresh, high-quality food.

“The thing I love about big cities, typically, is almost every corner there is a place to get food, fresh vegetables, meat, flowers, whatever," Hugg said. "And we don’t have that in smaller communities."

Diane Laird, director of the Downtown Dover Partnership, said the market is planned to be open four days a week, including one Saturday and one evening until at least 7 or 8 p.m. 

This idea of accessibility is partially what drew in Justin and Tara Brant, owners of Black Swamp Farmstead in Felton. They recently started their small farm to produce high-quality pork and chicken and have been branching out at farmers markets this year.

Tara and Justin Brant own Black Swamp Farmstead in Felton, and they are one of the several vendors interested in opening a permanent market on Loockerman Street.

“Tara and I started this specifically to be self-sustainable, so we could work for ourselves for the majority of our time and throughout the year,” said Justin Brant, who is active duty in the Navy and plans to focus on the farm full-time after retirement. “What that’s turned into is self-sustainability actually requires true interaction with the community.”

Beyond getting their name out more, Tara Brant, an Army veteran, said she is looking forward to supporting other vendors.

“What I’m pumped about is being a local producer of high quality items, but also getting to showcase other producers like us and almost advertise for them,” she said. 

Unlike a farmers market, the producers will display their products together like in a typical grocery store, and there will be one checkout. Justin Brant said the design is intended to be open.

“The idea would be that it’s a seamless shopping experience, so there’s no stalls set up,” he said. 

An inside look at the proposed space for an indoor market on Loockerman Street.

While there will be multiple vendors, one primary tenant will sign the lease and sublet to the others, which landowner Milford Housing Development Corporation requested. Laird said Milford Housing has committed to preparing the space for move-in, which is a big help.

“That’s one of our challenges in downtown,” she said. “We have vacant spaces but most of them are not in move-in position.”

Laird hopes the market will be an opportunity to engage the community and create a sense of nightlife downtown by occasionally offering educational workshops in the evening.

“[The idea is] to create something to do on Wednesday nights, or whatever night it ends up being, to get together with some friends and learn something, and certainly learn about the products that are [being sold] there,” she said. 

The goal is to open by early December.