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Dueling markets show off their wares

Fans of fresh produce were pulled in different directions Saturday as a new farmers market opened for the first time, just six blocks from the original Modesto Certified Farmers Market.

The Gallo Center Farmers Market held its inaugural event Saturday on 10th Street, between I and H, after some vendors broke away from the original market over differences in direction and management.

For regular customers such as Lillian Vallee, the situation was like watching parents squabble.

"They split up, they had a divorce," said the Modesto resident, browsing the Gallo Center market for the first time. "Now we have to visit both. It's like they have joint custody."

Vallee and her friend Lynn Hansen visited the Modesto Certified and Gallo Center markets Saturday morning. They said they would prefer that the markets stay together, but would consider going to both in the future.

Others at the new market said they wanted to see what it had to offer.

"I am pretty excited about the opportunity to see more booths and vendors," said Modesto resident Ted Rupert, at the new market. "I think the competition is good."

The new market had about half as many booths as the Modesto Certified market. The vast majority of venders near the Gallo Center were selling produce, reflecting one of their main reasons for breaking away.

Bernadette Estacio of A.H. Romero Farms had a booth at the Modesto Certified market for 25 years. But she joined the new market because she was unhappy with all the nonagricultural products being sold at the other market.

"We're all certified farmers here," she said. "We want that farm feel. We don't want to sell candles and be a flea market."

She said she was happy with the turnout for the first event. Shoppers came steadily throughout the morning to the open, sunny expanse. Some even were lured out for the first time by the controversy created over the dueling markets.

Calvin Fenall and wife Diane never had been to either market before, but stopped at the site near the Gallo Center to see what the fuss was about.

"I think it's good to have two," he said at the new market. "There's nothing wrong with competition. We'll definitely buy something here. And maybe there. It's guaranteed."

Six blocks away at the Modesto Certified Farmers Market on 16th Street, the tree-lined strip next to the Modesto branch of the Stanislaus County Library was as bustling as ever. But there, many regulars were less welcoming of the challenger.

"It stinks," said Deborah Robertson. "I think they need to have it here all together, and everyone needs to make up and have peace and love together."

The Modesto resident has been a regular for years and said coming down each Saturday is a social event where friends can stop and chat. She said that while she checked out the other market briefly, she doesn't think she would visit it regularly.

Arts and crafts vendors such as Jerry Music and Mitsy Glines of JER-M Designs said they weren't worried about their competitors down the street. Music said he didn't understand the controversy about nonproduce sellers such as himself.

"I think they are looking at us like lower- class citizens," he said.

Fudge-It owner Ronda Vargas said her stand at the Modesto Certified market was busy all day and she didn't notice any drop-off because of the new market. But she wasn't pleased with the reasoning for the split.

"I think it sounds a little catty that they couldn't work things out," she said. "I would prefer that everyone comes here. There's plenty of space; we could expand."

But Gallo Center market sellers such as Walter Nicolau of Classic Wine Vinegar Co. Inc. said the issues over the market's management and the release of longtime manager Steve Christy were serious. He said that after going to a meeting to support Christy, some sellers -- himself included -- were denied entry to the 2010 market.

"We had no choice," he said. "I believe that Modesto with its population can have more markets. There are multiple markets in many cities and we can coexist."

The Gallo Center market received temporary approval for Saturday's event, but discussions are ongoing about making it a weekly happening. For shoppers, the internal politics of the conflict weren't as important as the offerings.

Modesto resident Nancy Kirkes went to both and said she prefers the Modesto Certified market. Though her criticism was more simple. "The other one didn't have as many samples," she said.

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284.

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