A vacant West Harlem lot was bustling with life Thursday evening as it was transformed into the city’s first nighttime farmers market.
About 20 vendors, a jazz band, and dozens of unsuspecting passersby gathered at the pop-up market on the corner of 117th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.
“It feels more like a neighborhood party than a public market,” said John Soler, general manager at 5 and Diamond, a restaurant a few blocks away that was serving meals at the market. “It’s like everybody knows everybody.”
Soler stopped to chat with a reporter because he had run out of food for the fifth time that night, he said. As customers stopped by hoping to try the oxtail ragu empanadas, Soler’s most popular dish, he assured them that more was coming soon.
The “neighborhood party” drew a diverse crowd. A young girl in a ballerina costume danced to the jazz music in front of a graffitied wall while a group of boys nearby climbed the fence, which was adorned with rope lights. Also in attendance were several politicians, who said that the later hours would make shopping for fresh food easier for people who work during the day.
“This opens up the Greenmarket,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a mayoral candidate, said. “People who work during the day can get fresh produce. It expands the capacity of healthy food in the community.”
“This could be the prototype of the future,” Stringer said, adding that he wanted to see similar markets in all five boroughs.
City Council member Robert Jackson, who is running to be Stringer’s successor, said that the market “had a beautiful atmosphere.” He compared it to others held in the daytime, such as the Columbia Greenmarket on Broadway and 115th Street, which he said is attended more by people who work at home or at nearby institutions.
“This isn’t a hospital crowd, it’s not an institution crowd,” he said. “This is a different crowd, a community crowd.”
Organizers said they were overwhelmed by the turnout. “It’s blown away all our expectations,” said Michael Hurwitz, director of Greenmarket, which sponsors farmers markets around the city.
“The most frequent question I’m asked is, ‘Are you going to be here next week?’” Hurwitz said. It won’t, but the nighttime market is “not going to be a one-time thing,” he said. “I guarantee it.”
Locals said they were pleased with the new options the market presented. “My children have tasted different things that they never tasted before,” said Taylor Hart, who lives across the street. She said she was excited to try out a new salad dressing recipe she had learned.
Community Board 11 member LaShawn Henry said that fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to come by near her home. “This is something that the community needs,” she said, adding that she would encourage the farmers markets for the community “at night and in the day.”
Still, for an event touting its Harlemness, some said they would have liked to see more local vendors.
“We came here hoping this was representative of the community, but we found that a lot of vendors aren’t really from the Harlem area,” said Marcelitte Failla, a former employee at Harlem Children’s Zone. “It’s the ‘new wave’ of Harlem … it’s gentrification,” she said.
Ruth Mejia, who was working at the Nolasco Farms stand, said that although she has worked the stand at many farmers markets, the nighttime farmers market in Harlem was her favorite.
“I think it’s more relaxing,” Mejia said. “People are very happy, and we are happy too.”
She added that the evening temperatures made it perfect for business—“and for the vegetables too.”