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Over 50 Years Old

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Over 50 Years Old Text By Marcia Wood Photos By Cecil Lockard Each newcomer to Ann Arbor who stumbles onto Farmers' Market usually marvels at his discovery. But then, even for local oldtimers, the market's magnetism rarely diminishes. People of all ages, means and nationalities flock to the Detroit Street market early on Saturday mornings. The 52-year-old Farmers Market, officially known as the Ann Arbor Municipal Market, had a humble beginning, according to former market master Ben Zahn. Ann Arbor's first farmers' market was started about 1916 when farmers peddled their produce from the sidewalks surrounding the old courthouse. Zahn credits the Woman's Club of Ann Arbor as having been instrumental in getting the market off the ground. “The women liked the idea of having a market where the producer could sell directly to the consumer,” Zahn said. The club's idea seems to have been a good one, for more than a half century and one move later, the market remainas popular with townspeople. The present structure, with its 124 stalls, was constructed by the WPA in 1938, Zahn recollects. Over the years, rental prices have climbed. While many of the stalls are rented by the year for approximately $30 to $60, some may be rented by the day. A stall with a prime location rents from $3.25 on Saturdays, while a less favorable stall rents for $2.25 that same day. On Wednesday market days, all stalls are leased for $2.25. A corner stall is considered "the best." Stalls with easy access are also popular-and more costly. For many of the market merchants, selling their goods in Ann Arbor has been a life-long tradition. Mrs. Chris Dieterle of East Michigan Avenue, Saline, who probably has been coming to the market longer than any other present stallkeeper, said, "there's been a member of my family on the stall every Saturday for the past 44 years." Mrs. Dieterle's son, Robert, of 9701 Maple Road, Saline, is now in charge of the family stall. He has sold at the market since he was five years old. Another old-timer is Mrs. Francis J. Maulbetsch of East Northfield Church Road. She has manned her stall for 42 years. Mrs. Maulbetsch's daughter, Mrs. Richard W. Kapp of East North Territorial Road, Whitmore Lake, has operated her own stall for the past seven years. Three generations tend the Loyall Walkers' stall. Mrs. Walker, who lives near Grass Lake, gets a hand selling from her daughter, Mrs. Charlotte Crabtree of Concord-who drives 60 miles each Saturday to help-and from her granddaughter, Charlene Crabtree. Another family of marketers are the Edward C. Wasems of Milan who are assisted in their fruit sales by their two daughters, Jan and Beth. Out-of-town marketers-and there are many-must rise early to reach Ann Arbor in time to prepare displays for the market's 7 a.m. opening. Two Belleville sisters, the Misses Florence and Gertrude Gerick, have been faithfully getting out of bed at 3 a.m. on market Saturdays for years. The Gericks specialize is homebaked goods. Farmer's Market is a place of contrasts. Stalls are manned by both young and old. Enterprising Jim Nemeth, the 15-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Alex Nemeth of Bolla Road, Ypsilanti, runs a stand by himself in friendly competition with his parents' stall. Stallkeeper George Thomas of Plum Street will observe his 82nd birthday this month. Thomas learned to bake as a young man and plies his trade selling homemade candies and old fashioned molasses cakes. The market abounds with variety. Shoppers are offered everything from quinces for jelly-making to pottery vases for holding market bouquets of chrysanthemums or weeds and bittersweet. According to the present market master, Herbert Conant of Plymouth, craft items have become more popular. Not only is the market a spot to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, baked goods and flowers, it's a mecca for people watchers. For under its green tin roof on every Saturday and on Wednesdays from May through January, people in native dress from as far away as India and Egypt mingle with blue-jean clad shoppers.