WRITTEN BY: MACKENZIE LEVEQUE | STAFF WRITER
The ratty haired guitar player croons “You’ve Got a Friend in Memphis” while the scent of fresh tamales wafts tantalizingly your way. You turn the corner and the scene changes again: now a pubescent boy is playing the violin while a vendor extols the merits of seasoning salt. It is loud and a bit overwhelming, but warmly friendly, like a huge family reunion. You are invited.
If America is a melting pot, then farmer’s markets are part of the broth. At the Little Italy Mercato, experiences from various cultures and imaginations are present.
While walking through the market, you might find a handmade magic wand or a bouquet of flowers, both sold within feet of one another. If you’re hungry, food from all over the world is readily available, from vegan hummus to jalapeno relish. The two farmer’s markets differ in size and traffic, but find their similarity in the diversity that they offer visitors.
Little Italy Mercato boasts 200 vendors on five blocks of West Cedar Street from
Kettner Boulevard to Front Street. It is open every Saturday, rain or shine, according to its website, LittleItalySD. com. The top of the market hosts vendors selling unique jewelry and art and gifts.
One of the vendors in this section is jewelry maker and business owner Lori Roark. She has had a stand at the Little Italy Mercato for seven years. After recognizing that corporate life was not for her, she decided to create her own line of jewelry and sell it at the market once a week. Roark cherishes the sense of community of the market that she did not find in an office job.
“It’s a family,” she said. “We all help each other.”
Another member in the art section family is Kellie Cunningham, creator of the clothing brand Think Positive Apparel. She designs and manufactures clothing decorated with symbols made up of positive messages written in tiny script.
Cunningham noted the sense of diversity within the Little Italy Mercato, stating that lots of tourists visit the area due to attractions such as the Old Town trolley tour or cruise.
“I like the international tourists,” said Cunningham. “It is cool to know that your products are spreading worldwide.”
As you work your way down the market, you will find the produce and farming section, where more than 40 California farmers bring their meat, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, flowers and more to the market for those looking for fresh products. Every week, both international tourists and neighborhood residents flock to these stands in search of their own original treasure or snack.
Erika Mikolich’s family sells honey in this section of the market. The business, aptly named “Mikolich Family Honey,” is run by Erika’s father, two brothers, and sisters.
Her dad has been a beekeeper since 1985, when he began the business. Her mother used to be a schoolteacher, but has recently retired and joined the business as well.
Erika too tried her hand at a different job for a couple of years but eventually decided to come back and work with her family. She likes the Little Italy Farmer’s market for its quick pace. “Time goes fast because there are so many customers,” she said.
David Meade also works in a family business, selling sauces with his sister in a business called “Baby Clydesdale.” He said that the name was inspired by the fact that the sauce is sweet, yet has a kick. He started coming to Little Italy Mercato back in July.
When describing the process of attaining a permanent spot, he originally said that attaining a spot was all due to “cronyism and nepotism.” However, after he was corrected by a stern look from his sister, he rephrased, saying that the process was very similar to the process of dating.
“They start you off with date one and then you keep going and trying it out until they decide that you are married,” he said. He likes this market because of the potential to reach many customers and sell his products. “It makes me feel like a rockstar,” he said. “I sell out of everything.”
Little Italy Mercato is a hodgepodge of various trinkets and treats, smells and sounds. PLNU finance and accounting major Karina Guerrero summed up the experience as “entrepreneurship in America at its finest.”
PHOTO BY COMMONS.WIKIPEDIA.ORG