CHATHAM – The sandwich board sign announcing the town's farmers market was a familiar and welcome sight to many of the fans of the weekly market. Distinctively hand-lettered by artist Greta Ribb, it conveyed the intensely local and down-to-earth nature of the market.
So it's understandable that many, especially the market organizers, were heartbroken when the sign was stolen.
And then, unexpectedly, they were uplifted and touched when the sign was returned, with a heartfelt note of apology and money to make any needed repairs.
“It was a light for all of us,” said market organizer Kathy Sanders. “It's not about the sign; it's about hope that we can admit our wrongs.”
“It restored a little bit of faith,” added Julie Dykens, who sponsors the market at her Local Color Gallery on Main Street in West Chatham.
The sign went missing sometime around Aug. 13 or 14, Sanders said. Given its attractiveness, she wasn't too surprised. “It was probably off with the Sharks in the Park,” she commented, referring to artwork stolen from that downtown display this summer.
She announced the theft with a photo of the sign on the market's Facebook page; Ribb also posted it on her page. It was shared many times. Sanders thinks someone who knew about the theft saw it there and convinced, or perhaps ordered, the thief to return it.
“It somehow touched a lot of people, resonated with them,” she said.
Last Thursday morning, the sign – in two pieces – was on the front steps of Dykens' gallery. Taped to it was an envelope with a note and about $75 in cash.
“What we did was wrong and unacceptable behavior,” the note read. “I hope the money within this envelope is enough to repair any damage. I apologize from the bottom of my heart and am sorry for causing any grief to the Chatham community.”
“My daughter said it sounds like what you would have told me to say,” Sanders said, speculating that a parent may have been behind the returned sign after seeing the posts on social media.
“It was gone. It was just gone,” said Dykens. “I didn't expect to ever get it back. It's just heartwarming.”
Damage to the sign was minimal, Sanders said, and any money left after the repairs will go into additional signs that she's already asked Ribb to create.
“I put a fair amount of work into the sign,” Ribb said, creating the lettering and art by hand without a template. She said she'll get the repair work done as soon as possible. “The market is a top priority for me, because I'm a vendor as well,” selling flowers through her Floral Factory business.
She wasn't surprised the sign was taken, since it was not secured in any way. From the handwriting on the note, she surmises a younger person was responsible, which also doesn't surprise her.
“Young people have been stealing signs for a really long time. It's nothing new,” she said. “It's obviously just a thoughtless act.”
Its return, however, sends a positive message.
“You can be forgiven,” Ribb said, adding, “I like to think somebody said wait a second, the sign was handmade by someone, or someone just had the realization that they did the wrong thing and decided to do the right thing.”
Held Tuesday afternoons from 3 to 6:30 p.m. at Local Color Gallery and the Job Lot parking lot, the market has grown in popularity over its nine years and features fresh produce, meats, fish and hand-made goods. “It's a real family market,” Sanders said. “We really focus on young farmers, innovative ideas, community events. It's about supporting not just farmers and fishermen but their families as well.”
Ribb has also created special edition prints of the Chatham Farmers Market sign that she'll be selling at the market. Sanders said a local chocolate maker will also be creating candies with the image of the sign on them.
“It's pretty exceptional that this brought up such emotions,” she said of the incident. Given the turmoil in the country, “I think we all needed that little bit of light.”