Cincinnati has the year-round Findlay Market, and now Northern Kentucky has The Friendly Market, which officially opened on Sept. 7. Nestled in a spacious, barn-like building in the back of Mt. Zion Crossing Shopping Center in Florence, Ky., The Friendly Market is the brainchild of retired tobacco farm owner Jack Berberich, who owns the land the market is on and also developed the retail aspect of the endeavor. Knowing that the upcoming Mt. Zion Road expansion from two lanes to five lanes will probably make it the largest interchange in the state, Berberich felt it would be a good location for a market.
“I saw an opportunity to do some things that would evolve around the agriculture in the state of Kentucky using the model of Findlay Market,” Berberich says, “and that’s actually more of the emphasis that I tried to put into this market simply because of the fact that when the tobacco support program was terminated by the federal government, it took away a lot of the livelihood of farmers in the state.”
When he formulated the idea three years ago, Berberich wanted to promote local wineries and the farmers that ran them but his plan has since progressed toward something greater. Within an area hedged by pedestrian chain restaurants and stores, The Friendly Market is an innovative alternative.
The theme of the market is Kentucky products, but the market’s liquor store, Unbridled Spirits, sells national and Ohio brews, along with their Kentucky-centric wines and bourbons.
“I want to develop it around Kentucky primarily, regional secondarily,” Berberich says.
Like Findlay, Friendly includes Colonel De’s, Taste of Belgium and Brocato’s pasta. Friendly also has an entire general store dedicated to local artisans who make their own salsas, candles, pepper jellies and honeys. The Flying Olive (also based at Eastgate Jungle Jim’s) peddles Oakland, Calif.’s Veronica Foods infused balsamic vinegars, olive oils and truffle oils, including exotic flavors like blood orange olive oil and decadent dark espresso vinegar.
When you walk through the market’s front door, one of the first vendors you’re greeted by is Don Lambert of The Colonel’s Creamery, which scoops up farmstead ice cream made by a family in Bowling Green, Ky. Lambert has been experimenting with his own line of flavors that he calls The Colonel’s Private Reserve; he hopes to have more of his frozen treats for sale by the winter or spring, but right now customers can sample his small batches of cayenne chocolate or pineapple coconut banana flavors, all made with real fruit, no artificial flavorings and local ingredients, when possible.
“I think people are worn and wearied with commercial production ice cream,” Lambert says. “We put a lot of thought into the sweetness levels, the texture, the appearance. So my hope is we’ll be producing award-winning quality ice cream, but more than that it’ll be quality ice cream with natural ingredients that appeals to people here in this market.”
Since this summer’s daily outdoor farmers market and the opening of the indoor marketplace two months ago, business has been sluggish.
“It’s primarily because two reasons,” Berberich says. “Number one: People are still learning that we’re there. And the other thing is that after the grand opening — we had a very good grand opening — we dropped the ball a little bit by not continuing a marketing program, but we’re picking that up now.”
Berberich plans on more print and social media advertising; he wants to put on events like demonstrations, a car show and invite local bands to perform.
“I can only speak for a couple of the businesses in there, but I know that they’re now getting continuous, repeat customers, week after week after week,” Berberich says. “It’s like anything that’s new. That is, people need to first test you, find out if you’re for real, and once they believe that you are, the rest of it is downhill, so to speak.”
“As people find us, people are coming back and that’s very encouraging,” Lambert says.
In the next few months, the market should have improved signage, at least 10 more vendors and hopefully more customers, who will inevitably transform The Friendly Market into a destination location.
“I definitely want to see it continue to expand and grow,” Berberich says. “I’ll be 74 this coming April so I got to make it go fast.”
The Friendly Market is located at 10050 Norbotten Drive in Florence, Ky. For more information on hours or vendors, visit facebook.com/friendlymkt.