When I joined on with Visit Pensacola a little over two months ago, I was tasked with telling the story of our city to visitors. What I quickly realized is that our city isn’t just one great big story, it’s a book, filled with tens of chapters of thousands of pages that have people’s personal claims poured into them. This blog is the first of many that will cover the different industries and the people within them that make up the area. This is Visit Local Pensacola.
The first place I’m drawn too when I travel is the markets. Markets expose the most culture - the materials available to craft, seasonal vegetables and flowers and the people that dedicate their lives to showcasing their talents. The beautiful thing about a market is that it doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing a trade for 40 years or four weeks, there’s always a place for you.
Palafox Market is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the heart of downtown Pensacola. People flock here every weekend for their fix of local treasures, getting just enough to last the week so that they may return the next weekend. Below you’ll find a few of the prized stories about the people that occupy the market space every weekend.
Local producer Carl Stewart has been at the market every weekend for the past nine years and the market’s only been there for 10. He makes the drive twice a week all the way from Bay Minnette, Alabama – once for the market and once to make deliveries to local restaurants such as Pot Roast & Pinot and Apple Market.
“I just do it to have something to do,” Stewart said. “Being able to plant seed and see it come up and grow and produce, it makes you smile.” Carl has lived on the same land for over 70 years. He began farming full-time after he retired right where his father farmed.
Carl went on to explain to me just how much the market has changed in the past nine years and the progress he’s seen. “It was just one block; now it’s three,” he expressed. “I’ll tell you the market really exploded when it went to year-round. Originally it went from May to September, and it kind of stayed that same size for the first five or six years, when it went year-round it grew from there,” Stewart said.
“My opinion is when you get to May all of the people that went last year had forgotten about it, they get out of habit. When its year-round people get a routine and a lot of people end up here every Saturday. I have a lot of regulars.” When visiting the market, you’ll find Carl seated in a bag chair wearing an Auburn Tigers hat with his grandson working by his side. Will you be one of his new regulars?
Newer to Palafox Market, eight weeks to be exact, is Joseph Seurkamp, owner of TheGraffitiBridge.com. For those not familiar, the Graffiti Bridge is an old railroad overpass that has turned into an iconic landmark and work of living art in the Pensacola community. People have been painting, decorating, declaring and expressing on the trestle as far back as 1935 and guess what? It’s legal!
Joseph’s love of the bridge began roughly four years ago when he started photographing it as a hobby. “I kept noticing how often it was changing,” Seurkamp expressed. "At first, I wasn’t going as often, but I would go in the morning and take a picture and then you know I’d be driving back by it later that day and see something completely different, so it kind of intrigued me at that point.” Little did Joseph know that his entire life would be altered on assignment one day when he discovered a piece of paint laying on the ground that had fallen off of the bridge. Approximately six feet long and two to three inches thick, he decided to take it home and start experimenting – the rest is history. People can now find renditions of the bridge locked into jewelry pieces, wall art, mugs, t-shirts and whatever else he can imagine for the week. Don’t you dare ask about his creative process because he won’t tell you, what he did promise me though was that everything is handmade.
Seurkamp credits a lot of his success to being a part of Palafox Market. “When we first started, of course, people loved the idea but getting them to spend money on it, was a completely different story,” he said. “I guess no matter how much somebody loves something, getting them to come to your website, put in their credit card information and make a purchase, – that’s a big step and to be unknown in the community, it’s truly a difficult thing.” Joseph had made attempts to get into Palafox Market and was unsuccessful at first. He was a day away from shutting down his business when he got the call.
“Without those people at the market I wouldn’t have known what to do, they guided us along the way, and they still do,” he said. For the first few weeks of the market, he didn’t have a canopy to set up his artwork and someone let him borrow one. “It chokes me up a little bit because I didn’t realize how much of a passion I would develop for the bridge.” I hope you get the chance to talk to Joseph like I did, he’s a man that conveys utter dedication and love in what he does. Make sure to visit his tent at the market to see his creations, or better yet, tag the bridge and be a part of one.
Thomas Van Horn started his business by accident really. A friend of a friend was moving across the country, with bees in tow, he swerved on the Pensacola Bay Bridge to avoid an accident causing thousands of bees to pour into his truck cab. He quickly decided that the bees had to go and called his friend Frank, who would later gift those same bees to Tommy.
At the time, Van Horn was committing himself as the executive director of a local non-profit. While the work was fulfilling, he was often on the road fundraising. In his first year of beekeeping with just two hives, 200 pounds of honey would be produced and sold in just a matter of weeks. Those bees would go on to start a dream and build a dynasty of nearly 900 hives that produce almost 60,000 pounds of honey.
“I went to school for meteorology, I was a weatherman initially, but I’ve always appreciated the seasons and the outdoors and to be able to participate in that actively has been very rewarding,” Van Horn said. “Then to just be able to create a product that we can stand behind that’s beneficial to the environment and the community, that’s a feeling I can’t express, it’s really cool.”
Van Horn went on to express how the honey business has connected he and his family to the community, specifically Palafox Market. “The Palafox Market really is a little gem, I’ve visited other people and I know beekeepers nationwide and no one really has the foot traffic or the involvement comparatively. They’re shocked by the average number of people that come down to the market, the number of vendors, the number of sales that we have at the farmer’s market for a relatively small town.”
For now, Tommy and his family are living the dream, working together to produce honey. It’s simple and it works and it allows him more time to watch his kids grow up.
Have you ever visited Palafox Market? If so comment your favorite vendors and their products. Tune into my next Live Local Pensacola blog covering the incredible people that work in, on and around the surrounding bodies of water.