|Montgomery Curb Market Turns 90|
Farmer-Operated Market Boasts Friendly Feel
There are a lot of farmers markets in Alabama, but only one has the pedigree as the facility not far from the goalposts at Cramton Bowl near downtown Montgomery.
It’s known as the Curb Market, a business dating back to just after the end of World War I when farmers brought their fruit and vegetables to a location several blocks from its current site.
Now, at the age of 90, the market is believed to be one of the oldest, continuing facilities of its kind in America.
The toll taken by decades of use is evident and those who have watched it struggle to survive are hoping for municipal support to make needed improvements.
Repair work will eventually be made by the city and vendors couldn’t be happier because of the condition it’s in at the moment.
Wiring is stretched across the interior like long strands of spaghetti, a good paint job is needed and it doesn’t take long to come up with other needed improvements.
Because of its history, the Curb Market has found receptive ears among city officials well aware of how important it is to the community.
"We see the Curb Market as a great asset for not only the east side of the downtown area, but Montgomery as a whole," said Deputy Mayor Jeff Downes. "It’s an institution and we’re going to do what we can to help."
That was music to the ears of vendors who have been asking for help for a long time.
"We need new doors and windows, and better bathrooms," said Billy Gibbons, who is president of the Curb Market Association. "Our vendors also need to learn to diversify, especially during the winter months."
Gibbons, who owns a farm 12 miles north of Prattville, is a busy vendor as well as a spokesman for the Curb Market which moved to its present location two decades after it was moved to the corner of Washington and Perry Streets.
From a beginning with only 12 vendors, the market slowly began to grow. Before long there were about 150 farmers selling everything from row crops to delicious pound cakes, camp stew and even homemade soap.
The Depression of the 1930s didn’t stop farmers from driving into Montgomery to set up shop. That tradition has continued for decades.
One of the most loyal vendors is John Grier, 62, who estimates he has had booths at the Curb Market for about 40 years. The market is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays to give farmers a chance to pick their crops one day and then bring them to their booths the next day.
"I was up at two this morning to get ready to come to market," said Grier, a retired dairyman who is accustomed to the ups and downs of farming. "I’ve had days when I sold only about $5 worth of items, other days when I’d take home up to $800. Right now I’m lucky to make $100 a day."
Alabama’s peach crop is an agricultural savior during the spring and summer months and Clanton’s proximity to Montgomery has made the Curb Market a popular place throughout that period.
Instead of looking at peaches from Georgia or other states, Alabama-grown varieties are available throughout much of the year.
During the winter months, Grier and other Curb Market vendors bring their vegetables in from Florida. That includes beans, squash, okra and other crops that don’t grow in colder climates.
Competition has been a big factor in hampering farmers markets. That includes fast food restaurants, supermarkets and other businesses that still put a crimp into fresh fruit and vegetables taken to markets the next day.
"People just don’t seem to want to cook at home anymore like they used to in the old days," Grier said. "We offer the best fruit and vegetables money can buy and a lot fresher than what you can get at a supermarket."
What has made the Curb Market so popular through the years is its homey-atmosphere. It gives vendors and customers a chance to renew friendships dating back many years.
"We’ve all become part of one big family," said Diann Causey. "People didn’t just come to buy something, they also came to socialize. My grandmother sold butter, eggs and milk years ago."
Vendors are hopeful Montgomery officials will help to bring their market up to snuff, at least into the 21st century.
Downes indicated the Curb Market may well help revitalize a section of the city being called the "Madison Gateway Area" leading into downtown Montgomery – a central business district that has needed help of its own for many years.
"Time marches on" is an old expression in the country and, as such, what once was popular eventually faded away as changes began to take their toll.
Back in March, city officials got together with interested citizens to discuss possible municipal improvements.
The Curb Market was one topic of discussion, but money is as tight as it’s ever been since the recent economic collapse and budgetary constraints are a major consideration.
Only time will tell if Montgomery’s landmark Curb Market can survive, but Grier, Causey and other vendors believe it can.
No doubt they’ll continue to keep their fingers crossed just in case they need an extra bit of luck along the way.
Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.