BERLIN — Months after a tough fight to stay at their traditional location on Main Street, the Berlin Farmers’ Market will be moving next month to the nearby Berlin Fire Company (BFC).
The original plan to re-locate the market had been fiercely opposed, but this new idea, which came from the market vendors after an offer from the BFC, is being endorsed by all.
“I think it’s a great location for them … we’re very supportive and we think that it’s an excellent move,” said Mayor Gee Williams.
Though the farmers had been extremely reluctant to leave their usual location on Main Street across from Stevenson United Methodist Church, where they have setup for the last 19 years, Williams noted that the new site at the BFC will only be a stone’s throw away from where they were and the move will open more public parking to Berlin’s bustling downtown.
“To me, it’s a win-win for everybody. It frees up the parking, which obviously was our concern,” said the mayor. “It gives them a very visible location that’s literally within sight of their previous location. And hopefully it will bring greater exposure to the Taylor House museum and greater visibility to the fire company.”
Susan Wood, Market Master, praised the new site for its visibility. Where foot traffic had been one of the biggest concerns mentioned by the vendors when they fought to stay downtown last autumn, Wood said that the farmers expect regular customers to continue to visit and new customers to be attracted to the BFC lot.
“This location will continue to provide the downtown convenience for our long-term Berlin customers as well as better visibility and accessibility for customers from the surrounding areas as they drive into Berlin along Main Street,” she said.
The move should also put to rest any conflict with downtown public parking, added Wood. That parking question had been the catalyst behind the original suggestion of a re-location by the town.
In a joint press release with the BFC, the farmers’ market said that it expects their “partnership will hopefully resolve the ongoing debate between the town government and the farmer’s market regarding utilization of valued downtown parking spaces on the market days.”
In the release, the vendors call the situation a “win-win for the market and the town.”
The BFC actually offered to host the market last autumn when the location of the vendors was uncertain. At that time, the farmers were granted permission to stay at their traditional spot for at least a year. However, Wood said that the worry among venders was that the town would again seek to free up downtown parking by moving the farmers sooner or later. Instead of waiting for another confrontation, she explained that the market agreed to accept the BFC’s offer.
"This is a great example of two organizations communicating and working together in the best interests of the citizens and visitors," said BFC President David Fitzgerald.
Wood gave the company a large amount of credit for making the transition smooth and amicable.
“It’s been a partnership. It’s been a 50-50 effort between the market and the fire department in making this happen,” she said.
The group is making the move with a lot of advertising and attention that they hope will keep all of their regular customers in the loop. The first market will take place June 14 in the new location.
“We hope not to lose any of our regular customers. That is the primary reason that we delayed until we could get our advertising in place … I wanted it to be a positive move,” said Wood. “I wanted it to be a win-win. We’re giving the town their parking back before peak season.”
The new space lacks some of the ready foot traffic that helped infuse the traditional farmers’ market location, but Wood is optimistic that between loyal regulars and the “extreme visibility” of the BFC parking area business will remain steady or grow.
“At the green we have yards and yards of space to expand,” said Woods of the area the BFC has designated for the market.
All of that extra room could mean spots for new vendors and merchants. The site itself will be just off of Harrison Avenue and not directly on the BFC lot. The company will be installing a hard permeable surface next to the space to serve as parking specifically for the farmers market and their customers. This is ideal, said Wood, because this way no vendors will block the BFC lot in case of an emergency.
Because they will not be using the town-owned parking lot downtown, the council will be returning the “market fees” that vendors had paid and will instead have a single license.
“We’re returning all that money to them and just charging them for one business license for the whole farmers’ market,” he said.
Currently the market has 13 vendors and operates on Fridays year-round from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. According to Wood, the re-location should serve as a new chapter in the market’s history and one that will be heavily influenced by the positive partnership with the BFC.