A contingent of stallholders at the Hamilton Farmers’ Market say the Saturday outdoor program is cutting into their business, and are asking the city not to renew the project next year.
Indoor stallholder Ron Jepson, owner of Jepson’s Meats, has circulated a petition asking the city to cancel the market's outdoor program, which provides vendors the opportunity to sell fruits and vegetables on the sidewalk lining the north side of the market on Saturdays between June and the beginning of November
"Of the 29 [indoor] stallholders who were there that Thursday, 28 of them signed it," he told CBC Hamilton on Saturday. "It’s done nothing but hurt us."
(In total, the market has about 50 indoor stallholders.)
'Any time you get traffic disruptions, it hurts our business.' - Ron Jepson, owner, Jepson's Meats
In particular, Jepson decried the closure of one of the eastbound lanes of York Boulevard to accommodate for the outdoor vendors’ trucks.
"Any time you get traffic disruptions, it hurts our business."
Jon Van Der Nol, who manages British Baked Goods, also condemned the outdoor market.
"I think it detracts from customers coming into the market, especially during strawberry and peach time," he said. "Customers will go out there, they’ll snag peaches and carry on. It destroys the walk-through traffic."
He also said the lane closure on York Boulevard has had a negative impact for stallholders inside the market.
"I think it stops people from coming into the market. It just creates general havoc upstream."
'We have to evaluate the program:' market manager
The Hamilton Farmers’ Market outdoor program debuted on June 8, representing the first time the city-run enterprise had operated an outside market in 33 years.
Donna Lee Macdonald, manager of the Hamilton Farmers’ Market, said the program "has been going well" and dismissed calls to cancel the program in the middle of its first run.
"I think we have to evaluate the program after a full season," she said. "We’re receptive to this feedback, but we’re going to do a full investigation."
Macdonald is already examining possible changes that could be made, including finding a way to avoid having trucks parked in the southernmost lane of York Boulevard, and reducing the number of vendors who sell their goods each week.
Six vendors — four who don’t have stalls in the market and two who do — are regular participants in the weekly sale, she said.
"What we’ve learned through this is that we don’t want any more than four farmers outside."
Macdonald didn’t rule out the possibility of scrapping the program altogether.
"If we find out it’s not viable, we’ll find out. But we’ll give it full season."
Clint Eborall, of Bentford Farms, operates a stall inside the market and also sells fruit as part of the outside market. He said Bentford Farms would "most likely" participate in the program next year if it were renewed.
"It’s just dipping into a different group of people who wouldn’t drop into the market otherwise," he argued.
Eborall also downplayed other vendors' criticisms of the outdoor market.
"It’s almost like a family in here," he said. "You’re always going to have someone who’s not going to like what you’re doing."
The management of the farmers’ market has been source of controversy for the city in recent years. The market has run deficits in the ballpark of $200,000 per year for the last half-decade. And the city has put out a request for proposal to find a private operator to take over the market, but has yet to find a serious bidder.
Jepson slammed the city for its handling of the market. He said city staff aren’t listening to stallholders’ concerns on the outdoor market and on many other issues.
"They are asinine in their thought process," he said. "They know nothing about how to run a business."
Shane Coleman, the president of the markets’ stallholders association, said he feels inside vendors feel "ignored" by city hall.
He said city staff haven’t been responsive to what he said is the stallholders’ "biggest issue" — the lack of free parking for market patrons. Shoppers used to be able to park for free at York Boulevard and MacNab, but that program was eliminated in 2011 after the markets’ renovation was completed.
"We just feel we’re being mismanaged by staff," he said. "We need a change of governance. That’s what we want."
Macdonald disagreed with the suggestion that the city doesn’t listen to vendors.
She said city staff have recently been conducting meetings with stallholders to get their input on the how the possible privatization of the market should take shape.
"There’s certainly lots of opportunity for feedback and participation," she said.