|By ANN HINCH
LOUDON, Tenn. – Last summer, the Loudon Merchants and Property Owners Association (LMPOA) kicked off its first summertime weekly farmers’ market to revitalize this Tennessee town.
Approximately 30 miles southwest of Knoxville, Loudon is near Interstate 75, but located just far enough off to make it inconvenient to reach. It also has to compete with nearby Lenoir City, a bedroom community that has grown into a hive of business and development in the past two decades.
Loudon’s look and feel are nostalgic small-town America - a courthouse square dominating downtown, surrounded by a couple of restaurants, a mercantile, antique shops, a couple of gas stations and even a decorative fountain.
As out-of-state retirees continue to move to nearby Tellico Village, the area is attracting more attention, and Loudon businesses want to capitalize.
In addition to the farmers’ market each Thursday, the LMPOA sponsors plays and live bluegrass and folk music at the nearby historic Lyric Theatre, usually after the market closes at 7 p.m. This year, LMPOA added a flea market behind Loudon Mercantile.
“We’re doing it just to help our town,” said Director Linda Randolph. She explained the farmers’ market is a way to add the agricultural aspect of Loudon to the arts and to retail stores, which extend their hours on Thursdays to coincide with the market.
“Having these little shops has helped (farm vendors) a lot,” Randolph explained.
And local growers do flourish. Valerie Rogers, antique storeowner and LMPOA board member, estimates 200 to 300 people patronize downtown each Thursday evening. Produce vendors are from as far away as four adjoining counties.
“We’ve just got a lot of folks in the area that’s putting forth a lot of effort to really get people downtown and reinvigorate the area,” said Lynn Mills, interim Loudon city manager, “so I guess we’re blessed in that respect.”
He added that this is LMPOA’s initiative, though the city blocks off a couple of short streets and provides some traffic control. The City Council has acquired an old gas station and house near the farmers’ market, and Mills said if it doesn’t find a suitable development for the land, council may turn it into parking or other space which could be used to expand vendor space in future years.
This farm news was published in the July 5, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.