BERLIN — For the first time since its founding two decades ago, the Berlin Farmers Market might be leaving downtown.
According to the Chamber of Commerce, the move will be a win-win for farmers and Berlin, serving to free-up much needed parking space downtown while giving farmers two new, larger locations to operate from.
However, several of those same farmers are passionately opposed to the re-location, saying it was decided without their consent and could doom the market.
The announcement to re-locate the market to Stephen Decatur Park on Fridays and Henry Park on Wednesdays has met a stonewalling of dissent from vendors.
Carrie Bennett of Bennett’s Orchard labeled the re-location a potential “death knell” for the market, as leaving the downtown risked the loss of crucial foot traffic, in her opinion.
“The most successful [markets] are always located at town centers,” she asserted.
Operating only Wednesday afternoons and Friday mornings to early afternoon, the current location on Main Street draws significant business from day trippers and shoppers walking around town, said Bennett. Though moving the gathering to area parks would only increase the distance from the town center slightly, she argued that the loss of pedestrian traffic would be devastating.
“It’s that visibility we’re talking about,” she said. “You won’t have that sort of cross pollination.”
Paul Wood of A&W Farm also feared the new sites would not be able to provide enough visitors to support vendors. Wood expects that visitors would most likely drive to the markets, a scenario that both he and Bennett feel directly contradicts Berlin’s efforts to be a sustainable community.
“The present downtown location is critical to the success of the market, just as it is in farmers’ markets located in town centers throughout Delmarva,” Bennett wrote in a letter to the editor. “The downtown farmers’ market provides pedestrian and bicycle access along with an increase in customers for Berlin’s local businesses. Isn’t this the essence of sustainability?”
While respectful of the vendor’s concerns, Berlin Chamber Executive Director Aaren Collins promised the re-location would not be nearly as harmful as some farmers believe.
“We do everything in our power to make sure that the farmers market succeeds and grows,” she said.
In order to facilitate the transition, Collins explained that signage will be in place directing visitors to the new sites. There will also be a push for media coverage of the transfer to make sure that new and returning market customers are aware.
As far as a loss of foot traffic, while the parks are both somewhat off the beaten path, Collins believes that between signage and word of mouth there won’t be any drop in visitation of the market.
“It’s a small move,” she said. “It’s a good move.”
Both parks also have the added bonus of proximity to Route 113, which Collins believes will result in extra highway customers and both spots have electric available. On the town’s end, re-locating the market will free-up the parking lot that currently hosts the event, which she believes is needed given the town’s recent growth.
Neither Bennett nor Wood felt that gaining parking was an adequate reason to move the market from its traditional location.
“Basically it’s a lack of planning when you start to go into the parking issue,” said Wood.
Bennett explained that the vendors would be willing to “discuss parking options” with the town but felt like they are being kicked out with the way things stand. The worst part, she continued, is that the announcement of the re-location was made without first meeting with the farmers to consider other options.
“It wasn’t discussed. We were just informed,” said Bennett.
Bennett, Wood and many of the other vendors who comprise the market plan to attend the town council’s Monday, Oct. 22 meeting to air their complaints. They are asking for any interested or concerned members of the community to attend as well.
The chamber also hopes to hold a meeting with farmers next Wednesday.