February 20, 2013 - Tentative approval for a farmers market in downtown Oxford's northwest quadrant was granted by the village council last week following a lengthy discussion that touched on everything from parking issues and restrooms to appropriate merchandise and past failures.
"I personally would like to see a farmers market there in that location," said village President Tony Albensi. "I think it's a good location."
As part of the motion, the village will seek input from the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the issue will come back to council for final approval at its Feb. 26 meeting.
Input from all the businesses in the northwest quadrant will be sought and a drawing depicting the market space must be submitted. Issues concerning parking lot access and use along with restroom availability will also be addressed.
The market will commence in May and run until mid-October. It will be open on Thursdays from 2 to 7 p.m. (dusk) and Saturdays from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.
"This is a big plus for a town – to have a successful farmers market," said Councilwoman Sue Bossardet. "It brings people into town. I was especially pleased (by) the Saturday hours because that's a big thing in a community to have a successful farmers market on a Saturday morning."
The market will be organized and operated by the Oakland Township-based Wieland Productions Farmers Markets, which is owned by Kathy and Michael Wieland.`
"It really helps your community, at very little or no expense to your taxpayers," Michael Wieland told council.
In 2010 and 2011, the Wielands ran a Thursday farmers market in Oxford's northwest quadrant.
"We had run the market successfully for two years in a row, building it up," Wieland said.
Vernon Scott, owner of Scott's Farm Market in neighboring Brandon Township, is an ardent supporter of the market returning to the northwest quadrant and being run by the Wielands.
"We need to get the Wielands back in here and (put the market back) in the parking lot we were in," he said.
Last year, the DDA hired someone else to run the market and it was moved to a location along E. Burdick St. in the southeast quadrant.
By all accounts, the market was a failure there.
"Last year was a flop," said Scott, whose family has been farming around here since 1846. "The lady that was running it for the DDA didn't know a thing about what she was doing."
Scott noted when his stand was set up in the northwest quadrant, he'd sell $600 to $700 worth of produce on a Thursday afternoon. When he went over to the southeast quadrant, "I was lucky to sell $100."
"We didn't have traffic," he said. "Nobody went over there . . . Finally, we didn't go. The whole month of September, we didn't go. Half of August, we didn't go . . . You can't afford to sit there and not sell anything."
"Some of our vendors that did participate were not very happy with the way the market was managed last year," said Wieland, who noted he was approached by "several people" to bring the market back.
Even Bossardet admitted the market was "awful" when it was located on E. Burdick St.
"That was the biggest mistake they made, (moving) down there, although, I understood the reasoning at the time," she said.
Complaints from the surrounding business owners about how the market limited parking access for their customers prompted the venue change, according to village Manager Joe Young.
Scott indicated he approached DDA Director Madonna Van Fossen last summer and fall about the problems with last year's market and asked what was going to happen with it this year.
"We didn't get anywhere," he said.
Scott told council he talked to Van Fossen and "she told me there wasn't going to be one" this year. That's when he decided to approach the village directly with his request.
Scott noted he has proposals to sell his goods in other towns, but he'd rather set up shop in Oxford.
"This is my hometown," he said. "I grew up here. I've lived here 55 years. I want to run this here in Oxford with the Wielands, the way we did it two years ago . . . If we don't get it back this year, we won't get it back.
"We've got a lot of vendors that want to come here Thursday and Saturday. And that's what we need."
Concerns were expressed about the market's impact on northwest quadrant businesses, particularly the market taking up parking spaces and the vendors and public utilizing merchants' restrooms.
In their proposal to council, the Wielands noted how when they ran the Oxford market, it averaged 750 to 1,000 customers per week and surrounding merchants reported a sales increase of 30 percent on market day.
DDA Chairman Bill Dunn noted how he spoke with Jim Bielak, co-owner of Beadifferent Boutique in the northwest quadrant, and "he had a decrease" in sales.
"The only 30 percent increase he had was people using his bathroom," Dunn said.
Mary Lou Bielak, co-owner of Beadifferent, told council she has "no problem with the farmers market" herself, but her customers "complained like crazy that there's nowhere to park and, as my husband said, we did lose a lot of business on Thursdays because of that."
"I would like to see them downtown, but I would like to see something different," she said. "I don't have a problem as long as we work something out. I love having them there. I love visiting (the market)."
Both Wieland and Scott explained that this year's market would leave both of the northwest lot's driveways open for easy ingress and egress. The market itself would only occupy space by the brick wall which runs parallel to W. Burdick St., so none of the parking spaces directly behind the businesses would be blocked.
Wieland indicated the market's size would be "a little bit less than (what) it was before."
Bossardet asked how far the market space would extend outward into the parking lot.
"It will depend on the number of vendors, but minimally (the market will spread) out into the center," Wieland said. "I don't want to try to take over the whole parking lot. That's not the intent."
As for the restroom issue, Young noted the restroom at the village complex, which is just across the street, is open 24 hours a day.
Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth suggested installing some type of signage informing the public of that fact, so they don't use the facilities in the businesses.
Village resident Rose Bejma suggested setting up portable restroom and washing facilities in the back of the parking lot. "I don't know if that's feasible or not," she said.
There were also some concerns expressed regarding the types of items that were sold at previous farmers markets and what would be allowed this year.
"I thought a farmers market was fruits and vegetables, (but) there was a tent outside my backdoor selling clothes," Mary Lou Bielak said. "To me, that kind of interferes with my boutique and what I do. To me, that's not a farmers market. That's my complaint."
Councilman Elgin Nichols agreed. He noted when he first attended Oxford's market, he thought it was "going to be a true farmers market."
"I expected to find all types of produce," he said. "I did find lots of other items for sale and at the time, it kind of hit me that maybe this is in conflict with a lot of businesses in this area.
"If it's going to be a farmers market, let it be a farmers market where you can get lettuce and whatever from the local farmers . . . That's my concern."
Bossardet agreed with the idea of placing some type of restrictions on what can and cannot be sold at the farmers market.
"I wondered why those people (i.e. clothing vendors) were there, too," she said.
However, in its approved motion, council placed no restrictions on the type of merchandise that could be sold.
"I'm not going to restrict their products," said Helmuth, who made the motion. "I will let them restrict their products. And if we find it's a problem, then we should discuss that throughout the whole summer.
"If we find that they've got somebody out there selling bongs and we don't want them selling bongs, they got to go."
"If they're not farmers, they're going to have a hard time getting by me," Nichols noted.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.