RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) -- Hens don't stop laying, bees producing honey or bakers baking when the Richland Farmers' Market closes for the season.
Nor do the market's shoppers stop buying, eating and enjoying the produce, crafts and merchandise they were buying each Friday from the vendors and merchants on The Parkway in Richland. They just have to shop online.
Extending the market season on the internet was the idea of Dani Smart of Dani Smart Design & Photography. She shares an office with her husband, Jeff, just a few steps from where produce, specialty food and other Mid-Columbia vendors had been setting up their stands each Friday since June.
"We were talking to them about what they do in the off season. What if people want to buy eggs, beef or honey? They said they try to find other ways to market their products but it's not easy," said Jeff Smart of Smart Realtors. "Plus they're not able to take credit cards at the market. There are no phone lines."
Offering their products and produce, along with merchandise and specialty foods carried by the merchants, in a virtual mall is another way for the Richland Farmers' Market to expand its reach, he said. "It's all a part of the friendships we've created with all the vendors."
The site went live in September and the Smarts began advertising via word of mouth, an e-mail blitz and on Facebook.
"It's a good idea and I think it's going to get huge. Instead of pulling customers away from the market, it's a great add on, especially for the vendors, because they get orders ahead of time. So when Pat-n-Tam's Beef were coming to the market they knew to add an extra dozen T-bones to what they were going to bring because they knew they're already sold. It reduces waste and spoilage," he said.
The advantage for shoppers is they can go online, shop for a paella pan at Ariel's Gourmet & Gifts, honey from Two Sisters Honey, an oil painting from Ruth Stromswold and a treat for your pup from 4 Paws Barkery and pay for it with one checkout. No lines, no waiting and you can have it shipped or pick everything up at Smart Realtors.
"Produce, eggs and beef have to be picked up on Fridays at the office. Either the vendor arranges to meet their customers here or they drop it off during the week and we store it until the customer picks it up," Smart said.
The only way to place an order is through the Web site. The money collected goes directly to the individual vendors who pay a subscription fee to be a part of the virtual mall. The fee helps offset the hosting, e-commerce, photos, credit card processing, fraud protection -- the costs involved, he said.
Since the Web site went live the Smarts have seen traffic from every state in the United States and from various countries around the world.
"There was someone today shopping from China. They haven't placed an order yet but definitely seem interested. That's too far for anything fresh but we can certainly ship honey, oils and all merchandise and products from the various stores," Smart said.
Shipments go out daily and are consolidated so there's just one shipping and handling charge.
"The big thing we stress is the Web site is a full mall where you can shop for Christmas gifts, some eggs and order a side of beef if you need to and it's all local, all from Mid-Columbia vendors and small businesses," Smart said.