Shopping the Green Dragon
A rambling by Tom Knapp, 1998

The commercial and agrarian mix of Route 272 north of Ephrata is not a place you'd expect to see an icon of medieval lore. But there it is, a 15-foot-long emerald dragon holding court over the busy highway, summoning consumers to the Green Dragon Farmer's Market.

And they come en masse to browse through one of the region's greatest collections of knickknacks and doodads. Open Fridays, the market weekly draws upwards of 20,000 people.

"It's really tough to keep count," admits co-owner Larry Loose. "On a good day, it could be 40,000 or 50,000."

From the moment they find space in the crowded parking lot, savvy shoppers wade through a bedlam of tables and booths, where up to 420 merchants hawk varieties from computer software to apricot jam, baseball cards to athletic shoes, Nintendo games to Beanie Babies, Japanese swords to dozing ceramic pigs.

Established 66 years ago after police raided a Prohibition-era gin joint on the site, the indoor and outdoor shops today sprawl haphazardly over 40 acres, overloading the senses with the volume of offerings.

Are you looking for a commemorative plates featuring a three-dimensional glowing Elvis? Want a new toy truck or an old-fashioned dolly? How about a new home, new windows or a custom birdhouse for your lawn? They're all here, nestled among racks of t-shirts, tables of jewelry and piles of rugs.

It's the variety, Loose explains with confidence, that keeps people coming back. Also, he says, "it's the outdoor ambience. It's not a mall."

In one row you find the necessities to landscape your garden, restock your video collection and outfit your dog for life on pigs' ears and cow femurs. In a sunken pit in a dark and dusty barn, bunnies and birds look for owners from cramped cages and cardboard boxes.

The scent of freshly cut wood leads to a country furniture store. The aromas of old books, new leather and scented candles war for your attention. Wind chimes provide counterpoint to the country music booming from a neighboring stand.

And everywhere there's food, from fried pierogies to fresh Lancaster County produce and shoofly pies. Butchers, bakers, delis and vegetable stands wait in every corner to satisfy the tiniest tummy rumble or supply all the fixings for a family feast.

"We'll continue to be a farmers market," Loose says. "That's what we want to be. The rest is secondary."

by Tom Knapp