As department stores wrestle over whether to start their Black Friday specials a day early, Burlington County's Columbus Farmers Market is resuming Thanksgiving Day sales a year after a large fire altered its decades-old tradition of staying open through the holiday.
Merchants are selling everything from fresh turkeys (starting at 6 a.m.) to baked goods and seasonal decorations. There are also businesses selling shoes and military supplies, and a pet store should Fido need that something special for Thanksgiving.
"I'm thankful to be back in business for my friends, family, and my customers who have been reaching out," said Marci Strauss, whose father opened Wicker Emporium 37 years ago.
Last November's fire gutted the shop just as the market's busiest season was approaching. Instead of swift sales, the family faced ruined merchandise. "It was a nightmare. Horrible. We lost everything. The store was completely destroyed," she said, adding that the cause of the fire has never been determined.
On Wednesday, Strauss said sales were still slow, but picking up - a needed boost for merchants she said either "all die together, or strive and thrive together."
Melissa Funk of Columbus called the emporium her favorite shop. Wednesday, when she stood in line with Christmas decorations, was her first time back since the fire.
"I've been waiting for this part to open back up," said Funk, who was shopping with family, and buying a Santa nearly as tall as her 5-foot-3 daughter, Danielle Miller.
On Nov. 18, 2014 - nine days before Thanksgiving - a four-alarm fire erupted in the afternoon. High winds made it difficult for the 100 firefighters who responded to fight the blaze. Damage, however, was contained to several businesses near where the fire started. Industrial doors were closed to prevent the fire from spreading.
The entire market, however, was closed for Thanksgiving. The emporium was closed for 10 months because the store is in a building that was gutted on the inside. The next building over was demolished and had to be rebuilt. A handful of shops are still closed. Several new restaurants will be opening soon, after final construction is completed.
The market, on Route 206 in Springfield, has been open since 1919 and advertises itself as the Philadelphia area's oldest and largest such market, with a variety of business on a 200-acre site. Vendors include fresh produce stands, shops with baked goods, small retail stores, an outdoor flea market, a food court, and an antiques mall.
Chris Braun, who lives nearby, said she shops at the Farmers Market about three times a month. On Wednesday, at Esther's Bakery in the Amish Market, Braun explained to the owner, Esther Stoltzfus, how thrilled she was with the selection of baked goods she considers the best.
Braun - planning for 17 Thanksgiving guests - bought carrot and red velvet cakes; apple, pumpkin, lemon meringue, peanut butter mousse, coconut cream, and banana cream pies; and the traditional pumpkin roll.
"They're known for their pumpkin roll," Braun said, pointing to the well-stocked shelves.
Stoltzfus said that after last year's fire, her family sold baked goods outside the shop. Another of the family's businesses, Ben's Meat Market, brought a refrigerated truck to sell its turkeys in the parking lot after the fire.
Lydia Stoltzfus of Lancaster, who works at the meat market with her father, the owner, said business has been good this year. Among other goods, they had sold about 150 fresh turkeys by Wednesday. The meat market will open at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving, selling turkeys to customers who ordered in advance. There are some extras, she said, as long as customers are not too particular about size.