Local finds a niche in Nevada City
More residents spending time, money in town
Every Saturday morning, Union Alley in downtown Nevada City becomes a vibrant community hub where friends and neighbors gather to eat breakfast or sip dark coffee, have conversations and shop for the week’s groceries from local farmers and food vendors.
The thriving event, much like the Summer Nights celebration on July 11, 18 and 25, showcases Nevada City’s thriving local scene.
“We come here every Saturday for fresh produce and music. We usually meet up with friends. I think it helps the local farmers and provides a downtown destination,” Jane Pelton of Grass Valley said.
Every Saturday, best friends Maya Cordes and Tracy Young come out to the market with their young sons. On a recent Saturday, they took a break from shopping to chat in the shade with one another. At their feet, sat a lug of apricots, fruit they planned to freeze and dehydrate.
“I think it’s a great community event. It’s a great way to connect with friends… It feels like the farmers market brings people out of the woodwork,” Cordes said.
“I think this community is very local minded all the way around,” chimed in Young.
Demand for local goods
Historically a town driven by tourist dollars, Nevada City and it’s locals are re-discovering the homegrown richness of their own backyard.
This love of place is a longstanding tradition for some old timers who can remember the local pride drummed up during the freeway construction and the designation of the town on the National Register of Historic Places.
But in this recent era, there is a palpable swing to keep the community whole by spending dollars locally on goods from neighborhood merchants and producers, a shift recognized by Chamber of Commerce Executive Manager Cathy Whittlesey.
With gas prices out of control, some realize the community cannot depend on tourism solely to thrive.
“I think everybody is aware of spending money locally because of the economy,” Whittlesey said.
From the beginning, the Nevada City Farmers Market has catered to locals and grows significantly every year.
“What we’ve seen is an increase in local demand for local goods. That’s a great thing for the farmers market where all but two vendors come from within 35 miles of the market, most within 15 miles,” said Mali Dyck, market manager of the Nevada City Farmers Market.
Each Saturday, the market hosts 500 to 800 visitors and despite bringing more goods to market than ever before, farmers are selling 95 percent or more of the produce they bring before the market closes each week.
“It’s phenomenal. The street has been so packed that it could take an hour or more to pass through because you get hung up talking to friends, catching up with the farmers and getting your goods,” Dyck said.
Tourism still vital
Many area merchants depend on local spending for the bulk of their patronage yet say tourism remains an important part, too.
“It all makes the engine run,” said Whittlesey.
At Friar Tuck’s, the majority of Greg Cook’s customers have always been locals, with tourist visits providing a complimentary finish.
“Tourists add the right amount to the top of it,” he said.
In recent months, Cook has watched the economy begin to turn around as folks begin to relax and go out and enjoy their town more.
“People are really digging being in town,” he said.
Sales tax revenue is up 5 to 6 percent this fiscal year over last and is expected to grow an additional 5 percent in the coming fiscal year, city manager David Brennan reported in May.
At the Gray Goose on Broad Street, locals buy items from the sublime to the ridiculous and support the shop during the lean months. This summer, owner Stuey Weills is seeing an uptick in visitors from abroad.
Up the street, winemaker Alex Szabo says 50 to 80 percent of his clientele is local and yet believes firmly that tourists remain a lifeline to the town’s survival.
“No one can be self-sufficient in today’s world… That’s a myth. We’re not an island,” Szabo said.
Recently, Outside Magazine named Nevada City as one of 10 finalists in its annual “Best Town in America” competition for the town’s balance of culture, scenery, quality of ife and easy access to the outdoors.
“I think the qualities that attract tourists are the same qualities that attract new residents and keep old locals from leaving, said Dyck, who believes tourists will always play a part in Nevada City’s economy.
A vibrant local energy attracts outsiders to the area, said Erin Thiem, owner of the Outside Inn, a strong supporter in the local movement and author of the blog InnSide Nevada City.
“People are definitely attracted to Nevada City and the thriving local scene, whether it’s the Storytelling Festival, a show at the Haven Underground or the Farmer’s Market,” said Thiem, who says she wouldn’t have an Outside Inn without tourists.
Thiem promotes supporting her community in a number of ways – from buying cleaning products at S.O.A.P. in the 7 Hills Business District to donating to local soup night fundraisers.
“If we all work together to help promote our community, then in the end we all benefit,” she said.
Contact reporter Laura Brown at email@example.com or 401-4877.
Food vendors say the Farmers Market is producing for them as well.