Non-profit reports successes, challenges in 1st year operating Sudbury's Market
Greater Sudbury Market Association took over operation of the farmer's market from the city last spring
Greater Sudbury's farmer's market had its ups and downs this year — and the group that now runs it says it's a "work in progress."
The Greater Sudbury Market Association (GSMA) is the non-profit organization that oversees the Market.
Last spring, the city handed over management and operation of the Market to the newly formed board, made up of market vendors and community members.
Chair Peggy Baillie provided a year end report to the city's Community Services committee Monday night, speaking about both the successes and the challenges.
The Market operates June through October at two locations in the city. Thursday evenings the vendors set up in the parking lot on York Street at Paris Street. Then, on Saturday mornings, the Market is set up on Elgin Street at the VIA Rail station parking lot.
Baillie says attendance continues to climb, particularly on Thursday evenings.
The report showed a total of 9,112 visitors to the Thursday evening markets in 2019, an increase of more than 300 from the previous year's numbers. Saturday attendance this year, between June and October was a total of 9,093 visitors.
However, it was noted that weather always plays a factor in attendance at the Market.
"With any outdoor event you're going to have fluctuations with weather and you have good months and bad months," said Thomas Merritt, vice chair of GSMA, who joined Baillie in the presentation to councillors.
"I think we've been very fortunate and the weather has been fairly moderate. September wasn't a great weather month. That's just what we have to deal with as a market," he added.
One of the big hits with customers this past market season was the introduction of Market Bucks.
Baillie explained that in previous years, it had been a challenge for customers who only had debit or credit cards, when some vendors only accepted cash transactions.
The GSMA came up with Market Bucks, $5 tokens which people can buy from the Market manager using their debit or credit cards, and then they can use the tokens to pay cash-only vendors.
"This program was highly successful and in the end we ended up selling $16,000 worth of Market Bucks, which is actually $16,000 more sales for our vendors than otherwise would have happened without that program," she said.
Another challenge that required a compromise was how to deal with customers who would show up early to the Thursday Market on York Street. The hours of operation are from 2 p.m. until 7 p.m.
"[GSMA] restrict sales at the Market until 1:45, so that the vendors could have ample time to be able to set up properly," Baillie said.
"It's just similar to a regular operating retail location. You can't go into a retail store before it opens."
GMSA also provided the committee with its financial report, with figures up until the end of August. It shows a $27,516.41 surplus, however Baillie suspects that will be closer to $17,000 by the end of this year.
One city councillor asked about the city's financial contribution of $20,000 in municipal grants for the GSMA, and how that might factor in over the next few years.
"We are a very young organization. This is our first year of operation, so this is our first opportunity to manage and gather money," Baillie said.
She went on to explain that the GSMA has no cash flow, other than money that comes in through the Market.
"Cash flow is critical, especially as we are going into agreements and we need to have money sometimes prior to...we have operating costs that go year round and we don't have revenue coming in from vendor fees until sometimes June."
Baillie also explained that having a nest egg or a reserve fund is important in case there is a change in the relationship with the city.
"So that we can ensure that the Market continues, if there isn't some sort of contingency or other plan in place," she said.
This has very much been a work in progress, but we're trying to find our footing.- Thomas Merritt, vice-chair Greater Sudbury Market Association
Thomas Merritt, vice chair of the GSMA, also added that having a reserve fund would also be important if they experienced continued poor attendance due to weather, like they did this past September.
"If we have a series of Septembers and we don't have support from the city we could end up closing the Market," he said.
Merritt added that municipal financial support means they have long-term stability in the Market as they figure out how to run it successfully.
"This has very much been a work in progress, but we're trying to find our footing."
Baillie also added that the revenue brought in through vendor fees does not cover the full cost of the Market, and they don't yet have a plan to cover those costs.
"I think until we have enough momentum behind the Market and enough vendors behind the market to really do that then I think we need to tread carefully before making significant changes."
Despite the challenges, she does have a vision for the future.
"I would love to see the Market is so full that we have 50 vendors, we have thousands of people coming every day and that's what we're all striving towards."