August 22, 2012 - The Clarkston Farmers' Market has been held at Renaissance High School on Saturdays since June 23, but some would like to see the market move back downtown.
"I think the [downtown Clarkston] atmosphere is better than a parking lot," said Councilman Mike Sabol who has been talking with Clarkston Farmers' Market Manager Anissa Howard about moving the market next year.
Besides a nicer atmosphere, Sabol thinks, "it'll be better for city businesses." He'd like to see both the foot and vehicle traffic from the market downtown; however, he admits he hasn't heard any businesses say they've missed out on sales because the market has moved.
As far as Market Manager Anissa Howard is concerned, "it's wonderful to hear it's being missed."
She says she "didn't want to move the market away from downtown," but "we couldn't afford to stay."
Howard has managed the market since it first opened, and for the past seven years, it was held in the parking lot behind the Washington Mills Mall. "We were grateful that the property was available, and it worked," Howard said.
After allowing vendors to use the Farmers' Market in the parking lot for free for seven years, the owners of the Mills Mall wanted a cut of the profits. According to Washington Mills owner Bob Roth, "it just got to the point where the parking lot needed some work, and it's not cheap."
Howard said, "people were falling down" due to the broken concrete.
According to Roth, he paid $1600.00 to have some holes patched up last year, and Howard gave him $500 to help cover the costs, but "the more trucks that use it, the worse it gets," Roth said.
When considering the high price for maintaining the parking lot, Roth began renegotiating the cost to hold the market behind the Mills Mall. Roth said he quoted Howard $50 per vendor but eventually came down to $10 a vendor.
Howard puts it differently.
"We were being asked to triple the farmers' rates and give two thirds of the profits to renting the site," she said.
The current charge for farmers is $20 per day once they've applied to sell their goods at the market. Artists and craft vendors are charged $30 for each day.
The rate Howard billed was $25 a day at the old site. Moving to Renaissance High School means the cost to farmers has gone down.
"Farmers' Markets don't make piles of money," Howard said.
After the vendors are charged, the fees help pay for signs and use of the current site at Renaissance High, which will add up to a little over $2,000 for the whole summer. For her work as director, Howard says she makes about $66 from each market, which reaches approximately $1,000 for the 17-day season.
From Howard's perspective, the value of a market isn't in the money that is made but in the relationships built between customers and farmers. Those shopping at the market can find out where their food is grown and how it has been prepared.
The social as well as the monetary value is what Sabol is hoping to tap into if he can persuade Howard to move the market back downtown.
Sabol pictures Washington street blocked off from Main to Holcomb with vendors' tents along the roadside. Another option is blocking off Depot street, so the port-a-potties in Depot Park can be used by market shoppers.
As of right now, Howard has "no intentions of moving."
"I would love to hear ideas, but we're happy where we are," she said.
So far, Howard is pleased with the new site, which she describes as "flat and well-maintained."
Bob Roth thinks the Farmers' Market is in a better location too. "It's still close to downtown," he said, and pointed out the location offers the market room to grow bigger.
In fact, Howard says the market has been growing. It now offers more produce like blueberries, heirloom pumpkins, corn, and watermelons. There are baked goods, fresh-squeezed lemonade and yogurt smoothies available too.
Until there are more concrete plans to move, the Clarkston Farmers' Market will be at Renaissance High School every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. until October 13th. To find out more check on www.clarkstonfarmersmarket.org.
Clarkston News reporter