The Hamilton Farmers Market is in jeopardy, with fleeing vendors, dwindling sales and generally poor morale, some of the market’s 60 vendors say.
One long-time vendor and the president of the stallholder association presented to city councillors on Wednesday, representing their peers at the market. Both warned that the market has hit “rock bottom” and requires immediate changes to stay alive.
It needs a better sign, validated parking for its shoppers and a board of directors to manage it, said Ron Jepson of Jepson’s Fresh Meats, whose Hagersville family business has been there since the 1920s. Otherwise, he fears for the future.
“We are experiencing the worst business I’ve seen in my 38 years as a vendor,” he told the city’s general issues committee.
“We’ve hit rock bottom and the market is at a crisis point. We’re requesting these quick fixes take place immediately.”
The city will look at how it manages the market at a meeting next week. John Hertel, director of enterprise management and revenue generation, has been compiling a report since the summer on how to fix the market.
He’ll recommend three options: a private operator, a non-profit group with a board of directors and a revamped version of the city running it.
Hertel agrees that the status quo is not an option.
“Something has to change,” he said.
The market, Jepson said, was hurt deeply by $9-million renovations completed in 2010.
Crews removed a large blue and white sign that extended over York Boulevard. Now white letters on clear glass advertise the market, and on the market’s four business days, staff advertise it a sandwich board outside.
Before the renovations, Jepson said, the stalls were full. Now he’s counted 10 vacancies, although city staff say there are only three.
Councillors voted not to increase stall fees for vendors this year, which will cost the city $9,500. City staff are also consulting a sign company to see about better signs and will report back to council.
They’ll also report back on the possibility of having validated parking for market shoppers. At the nearby Nations grocery store, also in Jackson Square, shoppers park for free if they spend $20 or more.
City council hasn’t listened to the vendors enough in the past, said Coun. Chad Collins of Ward 5. It’s time to start now.
“Questions were raised, advice was given and it wasn’t taken in the past,” he said. “I think we’re all willing to agree that we’re willing to take some advice and some critiques on how we can make it better.”
The city’s market subcommittee will vote on Hertel’s report on Dec. 12.