To date, we are waiting on a decision of our zoning application. The property at 5973 South King Street has sat vacant longer than 2 years, which means that the property has lost any and all grandfathered "exceptions". It also means that the property needs to be brought current with the existing Town Zoning Codes. (Note: this is not a building code issue, but a zoning issue.) Beyond this, it starts to get pretty technical and boring.
The Town is also doing its due diligence as well. There is no definition in the Town Codes for a "farmers market". Therefore, the term and a proposed definition will be proposed at the next Planning Commission meeting to be held on Monday, July 11. (Come on out and support it!)
Aside from all this, the Market continues to get inquiries from prospective vendors and tenants. We have a very clear construction schedule outlined, broken into 3 phases to help spread out the expense, but are admittedly still looking for a silent partner or that angel investor. The building is pretty sound overall, but there are number of little things that add up to some significant upfront costs. Building codes require an accessible ramp, some railings, and accessible bathrooms. The building itself needs a bit of TLC (roof, a new porch beam, and some cosmetic upgrades.) Phase I will require about $100k, which includes parking lot paving and landscaping required by the Town. Honestly, we had hoped for some financial help from the Town by way of an economic development loan, but have since found that the monies are unavailable. Banks, in the current economy, are very difficult on "start ups". We will get a significant amount of what we spend on improvements back through historic tax credits, but we need the funds up front.
Additionally, we continue to study what works and what doesn't work at farmers markets. We will be sharing some of our insights along the way, but here are a few:
Farmers Markets can be wonderful community centers. They can also be a real downer for the vendors, especially if the market is just starting out. Farmers markets can take some time to "catch on" in a community. Why go to the market one or two days a week when the local grocery store is open 24-7? The food sometimes is pricier than the supermarket. So why buy at a farmers market? Well...there are a number of reasons from supporting your local neighbors to simply knowing that your food is grown local. Studies have found that eating local can decrease environmental issues such as allergies. If you eat the food that is around you, then you are getting doses of the local environment in each bite, and allergies are less likely to be such an issue. And just think about all the ecoli scares you hear on the news. One week it's "Don't eat this", the next, "don't eat that." Buying local means that you know where your food is coming from. It also means you probably know the farmer. Buying local also
Once a farmers market catches on in a community, it becomes an amazing community hub. It often becomes THE place to be. Like the local hair salon, or greasy spoon, Farmers Markets often develop into a place where everyone knows your name, and where you can get the latest information about everything and anything.
So, what can makes or breaks a farmers market:
1. Location, location, location
2. Number of vendors - the issue here is that people want variety. The more, the merrier. Most people attending any sort of market are looking for an experience. That experience may be in finding a specific or unique product that can't get somewhere else. Or, it may simply be the experience of the market itself. Either way, the market must have a bit of everything to be successful.
3. Presentation - farmers markets are expected to be somewhat rustic. However, presentation should never be underestimated. Clean produce is a must. (That whole theory that the dirt keeps the veggies fresh only goes so far when the dirt is all over a customer's backseat or trunk.) Throw a kitsch table cloth over that bare table. Put a bow or piece of rafia around that packaging. Use paper instead of plastic (it's better for the environment, but also looks more like a market than a Big Box store.) Add a whimsical something to your table that will brand you and make people remember you for more than your quality produce. Make it personal. If you're selling veggies, stack them in a nice display or use some nice baskets.
4. Lack of market knowledge - If you are offering something that people simply don't want, no matter how wonderful you think your product may be, you may have to face the music that great grandma's recipe for depression-era flour-less, flavorless devil's food cake is just not going to sell. This makes the vendor miserable, who then makes the customers miserable. A customer is more likely to remember a bad experience than a good one.
5. Packing up early - oh boy! This is a big one. Did you know that most mall leases require all stores to be open at specified hours and actually fine stores that fail to meet this standard? There is one reason for this: the basic marketing plan of a mall is based on variety under one roof. Customers expect to be able to shop at all stores when the mall is open. They expect consistency. You may have customers who show up early, buy and then go on with the rest of their day. For a weekend market in particular, there are that many more customers who may sleep in on the one or two days a week they have off, and show up just before the market closes. If vendors are packing up before the market closes, a customer feels uncomfortable. Bottom line: Farmers Markets are about supporting each other, and you owe it to the other vendors to stick it out to the bitter end, even if you are not making sales.
6. Advertising - last but not least is advertising. Many markets will do a flat fee for the season and then take a commission of each vendors' sales. We are opting for a flat fee for each market day (simple rent). This fee will be used primarily for advertising, which will include interstate signage. This signage has certain requirements that we uniquely meet because of the daily indoor market. We also plan to advertise in regional publications, which are fairly costly, but necessary for success.
That's it for now. Have a wonderful and safe holiday weekend!