The Sanderilla Thomas Bungalow at Rothschild Francis Market Square blossomed with activity Saturday morning as farmers and fishermen displayed their bounty for the first market day in several months.
The market had temporarily been moved to Emancipation Garden while the Market Square renovation was under way.
Folks wandered about in the early morning, happily inspecting the produce and the fish and comparing notes on the newly renovated market. Many people have a proprietary attitude about the market; it’s been part of their lives for years.
While most people expressed joy at having the market back where it belongs, some vendors and shoppers had complaints.
Vendor Claudia Janey said there was no running water or bathrooms. "We got no place to wash up," she said, "The old market had a pump. And there’s no bathrooms, and I don’t like that fence."
Contractor Larry Hodge also took a dim view of the black iron fence surrounding the bungalow.
"It’s nonsense," he said. "It’s dangerous in case the area has to be evacuated, and it’s not historically consistent. There was never a fence here."
Farmer Charlie Leonard, for one, was happy to have his place back at the market.
"I’ve had my spot here since 1981," Leonard said. "At Emancipation Garden anybody could set up anywhere. You’d find somebody in a space you’d had for weeks. You pay for your spot at Market Square, and that’s a good thing. You can’t sublease to anybody."
Former Senator Iver Stridiron, now executive director of the Legislature, sported a big smile as he greeted folks while looking over the market’s offerings.
"I think this is wonderful," he said. "It’s really a boon for the area. It’s great for the farmers and fishermen’s livelihood."
The construction hasn’t been good for neighborhood business, however, Stridiron noted.
"About 15 businesses have had to close during the construction, including my wife’s shop First Choice Gifts. She is going to close her store now," he said.
But by and large the opening was met with joy.
Mary Moore, an institution for decades at the market, took a minute to chat. Putting down a red hibiscus she was inspecting for ants, she said, "I have no idea how long I’ve been here. All my life, from a kid. I have booth number one," she said indicating a table filled with bright green produce.
Now – back to those pesky ants. Shaking the flower which she wanted to put in her hair, she pointed out the ants crawling in it.
"You have to blow on them to get them out," she said demonstrating. "They like to get in there for the nectar, but they bite! Oh, how they bite."
Satisfied she had cleaned them all out, she put the bright flower in her hair and posed for a photo.
"She’s really a veteran here," said St. Thomas-Water Island administrator Barbara Petersen, who was seated inside the bungalow chatting with Moore. The market is personal to Petersen as well.
"We lived on Garden Street," she said, "and my family and I have been coming to the Saturday market for years, since I was a little girl. It’s part of our life. I’ve always loved the energy here."
Putting on her official hat, Petersen fended off comments about the water.
"We didn’t have running water here before," she said, "and no bathrooms. Right now there are plans to have water available and to build bathrooms, maybe in some of the old buildings around the area. The project isn’t completed yet."
Anita St. John showed a basket of tiny tomatoes gleaming in the morning sun.
"I just picked them this morning," she said. "It’s good to be back at the market again. I see lots of people I haven’t been seeing for a long time."
Drina’s Organic Produce stand, managed by Drina and Simon Anthony, could hardly keep up with the traffic. Simon was busily bagging everything from kale, cucumbers, green onions and arugula to jackfruit and beans, while Drina sat behind bundling fresh herbs from their Dorothea farm. Drina echoed St. John’s sentiments.
"It’s really good to be back here, and I’m seeing so many people I missed while we were at Emancipation Garden."
Despite the many challenges, Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen said Thursday, "I am confident that with everyone’s support and cooperation the final outcome of the construction and renovation project will enhance the beauty and promote economic development in downtown St. Thomas."