Approaching Griffith’s Central Park on a beautiful Friday evening a week ago, I was pleasantly surprised at how much was going on in the park. The playgrounds were full of children, grandparents chasing after them and parents catching a couple minutes of rest.
The venerable tank on the east side of the park had its usual number of climbers. Having done that a few times over the years, I settled for reading the history of the tank – a fine addition to the veteran’s memorial park. After paying homage to the war memorial and the young men that served from World War I to the present, I made my way to the main event.
I had been invited by Patti and Terry Haugh to come to the Griffith Central Market. Unlike many of the open markets around Northwest Indiana, Griffith’s is not really a farmers market. In fact, there is precious little produce that one would find in an open market.
There is no criticism in that statement, just a realization that the vision put together by long-time Griffith resident Kathy Ruesken goes so much farther than a place to pick up fruits and vegetables. In fact, Ruesken will tell you that Griffith wanted to make this a destination where you came for the food and stayed for the music, camaraderie and the beauty of this old park.
Like any good sleuth, I tried to sneak around and look in the booths but was quickly discovered. That is the reality of coming from a smaller community like Griffith, you can never go completely undetected. Being a close-knit community, the kind of atmosphere that is created by the Central Market fits Griffith to a tee.
Every Friday from 3 to 8 p.m. through September, you can walk the many aisles for art, crafts, jewelry and food. For those who wish to linger, there is a beer stand and picnic area under the gazebo and with music as your backdrop.
Lady’s Caramel (popcorn) drew a large crowd. I had a sample of the cinnamon popcorn and am still kicking myself that I didn’t buy some. There are pierogies, pretzels, cheese, sauces, pies, Mexican food and caramel. After that, shop for produce and shrimp to jewelry and photographs.
So, how did Ruesken pull off such a neat trick on such hallowed ground? “The idea came out of my work last year in helping to clean up store fronts downtown. I thought that we needed to find a way to get people to stay a little longer downtown.
"So, I presented the idea to the town council,” she said, “and they were on board with it all the way.”
The town even went so far as to amend some of the existing ordinances to allow for the beer garden. The feeling was that it was important to have people stay around and not just come in and pick up their food and wares. “I just feel that there is so much to offer in this downtown,” Ruesken continued. “We have a recognized art festival in the Park Full of Art, (and) this builds on that idea.”
Griffith has certainly caught lightning in a bottle. “We have had wonderful participation among vendors and people coming out to support this idea,” Ruesken added.