Rain clouds threatened, but the mood was festive last weekend in downtown Mission: The city’s first farmers market was up and running for a second well-attended Saturday alongside a Johnson Drive devoid of dust and construction cones. Customers could easily maneuver strollers down the new, wider sidewalks along a grassy stretch of the Rock Creek Trail.
With all that good news, what damage could a few raindrops do?
The Mission Farm and Flower Market, like the improved main drag, has been a longtime goal of the city’s. Since at least 2007, residents have been routinely bringing it up in feedback sessions and focus groups about the city’s parks, said city spokeswoman Emily Randel.
“It’s been on the city’s to-do list for a while,” she said.
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But there was another major item to accomplish first — the $10.8 million project to improve Johnson Drive’s surface and sewer and to beautify the street with plantings, benches and wider sidewalks.
Construction on Johnson Drive was the bane of drivers since the 18-month project started in 2013. With traffic down to a single lane or completely closed at times and dust and noise a part of the daily experience, business owners along the route suffered.
Once the dust settled in November, the market became a big priority, said Mayor Steve Schowengerdt, but not only because residents wanted it. Schowengerdt hopes the popularity of the market, located on a grassy stretch of the Rock Creek Trail between Reeds Road and Maple Street, will bring people back to the downtown and into those businesses again.
“It’s already helping,” he said, adding that one nearby coffeeshop reported a doubling of business during the market’s first day June 6.
“It will be good for businesses and good for the community,” Schowengerdt said.
He and his wife, Mary, who pushed for the market and did some recruiting of vendors, said people like the sense of community and the wholesome food that the market provides.
“It’s just a nice thing to do on a Saturday morning,” Schowengerdt said.
That’s the thinking of Dan and Kandace Saeger of Mission, too. The couple braved the clouds Saturday with their 2-year-old son, Owen, and dog Houston for their usual weekend outing. “We always go to Dips and Sips first for cinnamon rolls and then walk through the market” now, said Kandace.
At least they have since construction was finished. Before that they took a different route, the couple said.
The market is making a modest start. About a dozen vendors set up canopies along the sidewalk and one food truck parked nearby. It wasn’t all vegetables, although produce was well represented. There was popcorn, pecans, garden plants and knick-knacks to buy, as well as goat cheese, olive oil, granola and gluten-free bakery mixes. Prairie Village musician Paul Carter provided a soft percussion backdrop on bongos and cajon.
Eventually, city officials hope the market will grow to cover the entire block near the trail, with maybe some picnic tables and a rain cover, said Schowengerdt.
“We want the vendors to excel. We’re very committed to that,” he said.
So far, it’s worked, said City Councilman Pat Quinn, who sat at the information booth. About 45 minutes of steady rain on the opening weekend didn’t keep people away, he said. “I can’t believe the turnout. I think it’s been fantastic.”
Also not complaining is Rachel Ciordas, owner of Lucca Bakery. She sold out of 50 loaves of the organic wheat and banana bread that she brought to opening day, despite the rain. “I’m excited,” said Ciordas of Fairway.
Although the end of road construction is a relief to most Mission residents, not everyone was happy with the way the street turned out. As Schowengerdt walked to the parking lot, one man called out from the street pointing out the lack of pedestrian traffic lights between Nall and Lamar Avenues.
But the traffic was slow enough that it didn’t deter the people from crossing at the newly painted crosswalks from spots that ScriptPro provided just to the north.
The Oliva family of Mission was happy for the walk.
Mike and Erin Oliva and their 12-month-old son, Alex, enjoy getting out of the house and filling up their shopping bag with fresh vegetables. “We have been just wanting to come out and enjoy the city,” said Mike Oliva.