A Lindenhurst outdoor marketplace that launched during the pandemic's height before struggling to attract business more recently is getting a fresh start with the help of a well-known produce vendor and the chance for customers to use government benefits to buy food.
American Venice Open Air Market provided an escape for cooped-up residents when it opened, along with a new avenue for local businesses to sell merchandise and a safe space for organizations to fundraise, said Darlene Perez Fantel, the market’s manager.
She collaborated with the Town of Babylon and the American Venice Civic Association to start the venture, which is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays through December at Montauk Highway and Miramar Boulevard.
But Perez Fantel said the marketplace faced a financial challenge after pandemic restrictions eased, when there was a boom in the number of street fairs and festivals and the outdoor market suddenly wasn't a novelty.
From a high of 60 vendors in 2021, the manager said she struggled to find even a dozen vendors last fall and ended up without a farmer to supply fresh fruits and vegetables.
“This market was totally dying at the end of the year,” said Perez Fantel, 59. “If you don’t have vendors, you’re not getting the visitors and vice versa.”
Perez Fantel, who owns the healthy snack business Crazy Chick, told the town in February she would refocus her efforts on her other venture and close the market.
Then she got a call from Donald Fink. He runs a “mobile market” selling produce, eggs and other items from his nephew’s Wading River business, Fink’s Country Farm, along with 10 other East End farms.
Perez Fantel had been lobbying Fink for years to bring his produce to American Venice Open Air Market but he had committed his resources elsewhere. But just in time, Fink said he was ready to collaborate.
“How do I say no to this?” Perez Fantel said, noting that Fink’s has a loyal customer following. “I love fresh produce and how do I not bring that to my community? Not everyone has the time to go out east to go shopping every week.”
Recently, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets helped Perez Fantel find another farm, JD Farms, to sell goods at the Lindenhurst marketplace — now rebranded as American Venice Farmers Market.
Perez Fantel said the market also has been approved by the statewide Farmers Market Nutrition Program to accept benefits from customers who qualify for two different government-funded nutrition programs — one for low-income seniors and one for women and children. She said the market is awaiting approval for customers to be allowed to use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefits, to buy food there.
Previously known as food stamps, SNAP is a federal program that offers financial help for low-income people to feed their families.
Michele Fink, Donald Fink's wife and business partner, said adding the option for customers to use government benefits to buy produce will be "a very good drawing point for the market."
Viscel Moore, director of Babylon Town's beautification and COVID-19 recovery programs, said the addition of Fink's produce "changes the game tremendously" for the venture.
"This allows the market to have a rebirth," she added.