In April, a new stand will open at Lancaster Central Market with prepared vegan and vegetarian food.
The stand, which will replace Sweethearts of Lancaster celery, will also sell an entirely new product for the downtown market: alcohol.
Operated by Lancaster Distilleries, the stand will feature food from Zoetropolis Cinema Still House alongside bottles of rum, vodka and gin. There will also be cocktail kits and bottle syrups in addition to cocktail garnishes, simple syrups and bitters for making mixed drinks.
“I love Lancaster, and Lancaster Central Market is obviously a great fit for Lancaster Distilleries,” said Nate Boring, head distiller for the distillery that opened in May 2019 inside Zoetropolis Cinema Stillhouse at 112 N. Water St. “We’re excited to be at the market.”
Believed to be unique in its history, the selling of alcohol at Lancaster Central Market could disappoint some traditionalists while also being welcomed by customers accustomed to buying alcohol in all kinds of new places. It’s a shift that follows a five-year-old update to the state’s liquor laws, as well as some hard thinking by the market’s overseers.
“There’s always concerns when you’re bringing in alcohol at such a family friendly market -- and that’s what we’re known for -- but the concerns were outweighed by the positive response (from standholders) and the opportunity this represented,” said Dani Decker, communications manager for Lancaster Central Market.
“Alcohol and the sales of alcohol is something that has been discussed frequently in probably the last five years,” she said.
Before the Lancaster Distilleries stand was approved by the 12-person Central Market Trust that operates the market, a survey was sent out to the 60-some current standholders asking about the possibility. Decker said the results were “overwhelming positive” for some alcohol sales by Lancaster Distilleries.
“Historically there have been qualms and concerns (about selling alcohol) which is why we treaded lightly on the idea,” said Decker, noting the market will continue to prohibit alcohol consumption.
As Lancaster Distilleries prepares to join a downtown hub with a long history as a farmers market, Boring emphasized the agricultural roots of distilling as a way of preserving grain: “It makes a condensed, non-perishable product.”
Boring added: “I know it is not everyone’s ideal situation -- there are some people who don’t believe in alcohol -- but everyone has been very friendly and I don’t foresee any problems whatsoever.”
Law change, seller interest
The inclusion of Lancaster Distilleries at the market was made possible by changes to state law in 2016 that gave breweries and distilleries the option to apply for permits to sell at farmers markets.
Since then, Decker said the market has gotten a couple applications a year for standholders that wanted to sell alcohol. With Lancaster Distilleries, Decker said the market has found the right fit.
“If we were to bring alcohol in, we wanted it to be someone local, someone that really would represent the county and the city properly,” she said. “When we received the application from Lancaster Distilleries -- and their application was for selling food as well as bottled spirits -- it seemed kind of like the perfect opportunity.”
Applications for new stands remain active for one year, and Decker said there is currently one for someone else who wants to sell alcohol. She didn’t comment on whether another stand could open with alcohol.
“Right now our focus will just be on this transition and trying to bring (Lancaster Distilleries) in smoothly,” she said.
First ever alcohol sales?
Lancaster Central Market traces its history to the city’s founding in 1730, and the market has occupied its current Romanesque Revival-style building since 1889.
Decker says some alcohol could have been sold during the market’s long history, but it is not remembered by anyone currently involved, which includes standholders who have been around for 50 years.
Lancaster Distilleries announced its new stand in a Facebook post Wednesday that read in part: “We have made history by becoming the first stand at Central Market to be approved to sell alcohol.”
Boring said the claim of being the first alcohol seller in the market’s 290-year history was based on some of his own cursory research.
“If it’s not quite the first ever, I’m sure we’ll have some people give us some lessons in history, which I’m always happy to hear,” he said.