by Victoria Ritter
What began as a grassroots effort to introduce a farm and craft market to Yates County has grown into a popular area attraction. The Windmill Market Farm & Craft Market is celebrating its 36th anniversary, marking decades of growth and looking ahead to new ventures.
The Windmill opened its doors on June 27, 1987 with 64 indoor vendors and 25 outdoor vendors. Today, the venue continues to thrill people of all ages with seasonal events, live music, pony rides for kids and new merchants joining the market. Even the vendors have fun. “On July 22, Saturday Black Robin Band performed,” stated Executive Director Steve Wilson. “To my surprise, some of our merchants left their businesses to dance with our customers. It was very cool!”
Wilson, who hails from Ohio, discovered the Finger Lakes Region on a motorcycle trip. He was impressed by the area and 12 years later applied to be The Windmill’s manager. Wilson’s past career experience has varied, ranging from vision care and hearing/audiology to working at a General Motors dealership and in real estate; right before he joined the Windmill, Wilson and his wife operated a few small retail stores in small communities. His past experiences have helped him bring a sense of public service to his role at The Windmill.
As The Windmill’s executive manager, Wilson has helped upgrade the campus assets, brushed up marketing messages, widened our target audience and pushed forward to make the market financially solid. Above all, Wilson strived to honor the legacy of The Windmill’s founders – Bill and Ruth Gunderman, and Pat Gunderman – build upon their vision and create a prosperous environment for merchants.
“Communication by and between leadership and the merchants was a top priority,” Wilson said. “Open dialogue and a culture that promotes innovation has taken us where we are today.”
Improvements are a priority to the Windmill board and team, according to Wilson. Last December, the Windmill team demolished the northwest buildings on the Street of Shops to begin a new project, 2023 Record Place. The nearly 5,000-square-foot building was completed on April 13 and named for the Windmill’s long-serving president, Mary Record.
The new facility includes 13 units for vendors, is fully handicap accessible and is outfitted with heating and cooling – a first for the market. The 10-foot ceilings, large doors and windows create an inviting retail space for all. “Themed after an old fashioned anywhere American downtown, we were pleased it came together for the enjoyment of our customers and merchants,” Wilson said. “Nearly all the suites were occupied with our previous businesses adding three new ones, so I believe vendors love it!”
Another recent endeavor is Windmill’s acquisition of Windy Acres Farm, just a mile to the south. Eugene Z. Hoover, one of the Windmill’s original merchants, founded the farm 26 years ago. It started out as a roadside table has developed into a premiere farm stand and nursery, thanks to the family’s hard work and staunch customer support. “We will always honor the Hoovers’ legacy and hope to enjoy many years together to help him see the fulfillment of his dreams for expansion and progress,” Wilson stated.
The Windmill operates Windy Acres Farm, LLC with Hoover’s son, Aaron (Eugene). Wilson reported that the plan is to meld the two businesses into “one destination, two locations in the heart of the Finger Lakes.” Possible features include farm tours, direct delivery of farm-fresh food and more. “Stay tuned,” Wilson said. “We’re just getting started, and we have the benefit of two companies that, combined, have served our region for six decades. It’s going to be fun.”
The Windmill is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays from the end of April to November 25. It is also open every Monday of a national holiday, Columbus Day and Black Friday. To see upcoming weekly events, visit the market’s social media pages and website, thewindmill.com.