Forget all the fancy new retailing concepts -- hypermarts, category killers and discount stores. The idea that seems to have really filled a merchandising void in Carroll County is the old-fashioned Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market that opened last Friday in Crossroads Shopping Center in Westminster.
At noon, in the rain no less, there wasn't a parking space to be found. Hungry people were waiting 20 minutes for a hot roast pork, fresh ham or turkey sandwiches at the Pennsylvania Smokehouse stand. Shoppers were snatching up the freshly baked breads, rolls and cakes from the bakery stalls. Several young children stood transfixed watching Amish women roll out dough for freshly-baked soft pretzels. There were dozens of crafts for sale, everything from dolls to black T-shirts stenciled with Harley Davidson motorcycle insignia.
The people shopping that first day represented a good cross section of the county. Young mothers with their children, retired couples, government workers and businessmen and businesswomen were there browsing, eating and buying. There were also a number of Amish men, with their distinctive beards and straw boaters, and Amish women, with their lace bonnets, walking through the aisles and checking on merchandise.
Judging from the traffic on the first day, Daniel Esch, the entrepreneur who created this farmers market, appears to to have successfully duplicated the feel of old-time market days.
Even though the space -- which used to house a Safeway supermarket until it closed in 1989 -- is large, it has been divided up into smaller, more intimate stalls. Customers aren't overwhelmed by slick-looking displays and haughty sales clerks.
Most of the vendors -- many of whom are not Amish -- seemed to understand that what American shoppers are interested in these days is good quality merchandise sold at reasonable prices by knowledgeable and smiling salespeople.
Wal-Mart, which will open next month, has been heralded as the big retailing event of this year in the county, but the late Sam Walton -- Wal-Mart's founder and America's best-known retailer of the past two decades -- would probably admire the excitement the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market was able to generate at its opening.