The Harkerville Market
Written by Christine Mason
On 14th October 2000, Menno and Will Hiemstra opened the Harkerville Saturday Market as a complementary attraction for their pottery business. Ignorant as to how open-air markets worked, they took much advice before advertising the venture to farm producers from Knysna and Plett. At the time, they didn’t quite realise how big an asset this was to become to the whole community.
The concept has grown to the extent that, 9 year later and without missing one week, the Harkerville Saturday Market is one of Plett’s ‘must see’ tourist attractions. “We are serving people and, at the same time, enjoying every minute” says Wil.
The reasons for their success are many: The formula is different – unlike many up-country markets, stalls are offered to participants on a commission basis, rather than applying a fixed fee for the site. “This means that those who are just staring out need pay only a percentage of what they take – and it’s all on an honesty basis” says Menno. All sites are similar and this low risk, low cost opportunity for business ventures works exceptionally well for self-starters, some of whom have developed a thriving, permanent business from a single market stall.
The commission system also works well for new entrepreneurs from surrounding communities – a truly ‘equal opportunity.’
Saturday morning regulars are diverse and many and the mix of different cultures results in a fun, informal and festive atmosphere. Gucci trousers rest just as easily on the raw wooden benches as do faded jeans. In high season, locals bring visiting friends and family; even if it rains, faces under umbrellas are cheerful and relaxed. Some have waited a year to again experience a ‘Bundu Breakfast’; others are there because it’s where they usually buy their fresh vegetables, cheese, jams, biltong, nuts and bread.
Here visitors and stallholders exchange cheerful banter. There is no hard sell, no pressure to buy. Visitors are free to simply sit and ‘be in the moment’ or to socialise. The sharing of a rough table seems to be a great equaliser and strangers are soon chatting in an encounter which might never have happened, but for an ambience which has been described as “a typical English country market of 50 years ago”.
The market’s emphasis is on natural and organic products – no gassy soft drinks or crisps are found here and healthy options, such as fruit, nuts or pineapple on a stick, make great alternative snacks. The coffee is always fresh, and somehow tastes better in the open air.
The introduction of home-craft stalls 2 years after the market opened added another dimension and showcases the creativity of Garden Route people – a real treasure trove of souvenirs and gifts.
Integrity and quality are the key words of the market’s operation. Stallholders are expected to be consistent in their presence and in the quality of the produce they offer. And it seems that the integrity rubs off on everyone: lost wallets, keys, cell-phones and items of clothing are all handed in to be reclaimed by grateful owners! FAMSA’s fund-raising book stall is unattended. Make your selection and remember to make a generous donation in the honesty box in exchange – you will be contributing to FAMSA’s worthy efforts. This dynamic market evolves continually and you are bound to find new and exciting stalls, so take a short scenic drive along the N2 and enjoy this “down-to-earth” experience. It’s a breath of fresh air.
Market hours are 08:00 to 12:00 on Saturdays. On the N2 midway between Plett and Knysna.