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Farmers' market old timers still love the work

Senior vendors love the Strathcona Farmers' Market

Most Saturdays find Gramma Bear, the Quillow Lady and the Craftworks guy hanging out at the Old Strathcona Farmers' Market.

It's been that way for more than 20 years. They are among the longest running of the market's more than 130 vendors.

Evelyn Dickout, 84, the Gramma Bear of Gramma Bear's Home Baking, has been selling sweet treats with Harold, 86, her husband of 61 years, for 33 years. The couple met when they both worked as Edmonton police officers in the 1950s.

Evelyn pays two women to help her bake the toothsome cookies, butter tarts, pies and buns which are made in a bakery on the couple's farm near Calmar, 25 minutes southwest of Edmonton. The Dickhouts wake up at 2:30 in the morning Saturdays to load up the baked goods and have their booth open and ready for business by 7:30 a.m.

Peter Dickhout, 57, one of the couple's four children, and a heavy duty mechanic during the week, helps serve the hundreds of regular customers who stop by the booth on the weekend.

Harold is quick to point out that many of the customers have become friends over the the last three decades. He points out a lady speaking with Evelyn, who he says is a former nurse in her 90s who lives in Hawaii. Another longtime customer has been having some health issues and it's the first time he's seen him in a year.

"Seeing him and learning how he's progressing that's pretty important," Harold says.

Their customers feel the same way about them.

"People really have an expectation to come and see (my parents)," Peter says, "so on the occasions when they take time off – they took a cruise a couple of years ago – people come up and they're almost panic-stricken asking is everything okay?"

Peter isn't surprised his parents are still working.

"Both of them are very work oriented," he says. "I think they're willing to retire but it's a process too of finding someone to take over the baking."

Two aisles over Marilyn Stevenson – a.k.a. The Quillow Lady – is demonstrating for a shopper how one of her brightly-coloured theme pillows is transformed into a matching quilt.

"I've made 31,485 quillows since I started selling them in 1990," Stevenson, 67, says. She started while working with her parents, who started the Spruce Grove farmers' market more than 50 years ago. She now lives nine blocks from the Old Strathcona market.

Stevenson's booth has been in the same place for a long time since becoming a permanent vendor. Prior to that she had to move her booth 18 times.

Gordon Langer's days as a market vendor ended in January. The 64-year-old shut down his Craftworks booth for good Jan. 25th, after 28 years, following his business partner, master wood turner Brian McEvoy, into retirement.

"I work six days a week in my shop and one day a week here and it's been a work of love, I've enjoyed every second of it, but it's time to move on," he said.

"Sadly, I fear the economy is going to be a tough 2020 and whether I do it this year or next year, it was inevitable and I just thought I'll call it quits before it really gets tough."

He had a decent sales year in 2019, but it was down from 2018, which was down from 2017.

The economy is partially to blame, Langer said.

"The other part, is the artistic stuff I make appeals to people our age, and they coincidentally have some cash in their jeans, but most of them are downsizing so they're not really interested in buying it anymore. And the young people are far more interested in buying something from offshore, China, which is mass produced and way cheaper. It's really sad."

Langer plans to keep creating beautiful wooden art for himself, and for people who contract him.

"I'm going to take it back to where it was fun rather than work."