BERLIN – Though the Downtown Berlin Farmers Market has closed after more than 30 years in business, the town is expected to welcome a new market by summer.
Late last week, organizers of the farmers market used social media to share news of the market’s closure. On Monday, Berlin Economic Development Director Ivy Wells said she was already in communication with various entities in an effort to begin a new market in town.
“I see this as an opportunity for the town to really start a wonderful farmers market,” Wells said.
According to the Downtown Berlin Farmers Market (DBFM) Facebook page, the market’s closure is the result of a variety of factors.
“As with every decision or outcome, the contributing factors are cumulative, each taking a small toll, but combined, in our case having a fatal outcome,” the statement on Facebook reads. “We have had difficulty competing with the proliferation of open air markets and retail stores that offer non-fresh products, entertainment, and product that is produced outside the local area, as we continued to regulate our products to local, farm fresh, and cottage kitchen. A real farmers’ market is apparently now out of ‘vogue’ in this community, since a large portion of our customer base has migrated to these competitors. At the same time, we sincerely regret the void our closing will create for those who have continued to seek us out for local and fresh.”
The statement on the market’s Facebook page also outlines its difficulty in maintaining an adequate number of vendors and the limited profitability associated with the Berlin market.
“It is with heavy hearts that after 30 years of providing local, farm grown and home produced, fresh products to the Berlin community, we are closing. Several of the few vendors who had committed to return this season were the original producers when this historic market began 30 years ago, and enjoyed a very loyal customer base for many years,” the statement on Facebook reads. “Of recent, they are all in agreement that this market generates minimally more than it costs them to be here. They have returned for 30 years because of commitment to their cause — a grower/producer market, community, and agriculture. In addition, only one of our more recent successful vendors was returning. Most of our non-returning vendors cited an eroding customer base and too little income for the time involved as reasons. In all fairness to our small, loyal customer base, though, I have to say that a number of our recent vendors came with the expectation of instant income and success, and with a commitment to the spirit of farmers’ market and community. Thus their short term participation, which has necessitated an exhausting search for new vendors with local, fresh desired products every season.”
Wells said she approached organizers of the market shortly after she came to Berlin and offered to help promote it, as she’d helped start the Sykesville farmers market during her time there. She says organizers declined her assistance.
“Over the last three years I’ve missed being able to have an outstanding farmers market,” she said.
Market Master Susan Wood said Wells visited the market soon after becoming employed with the town, but recalls the conversation differently. Wood said Wells was looking for the town to take it over.
“It is true that Ms. Wells contacted me, and came to the market once. Her demeanor and verbal communication, however, did not suggest that she was offering assistance,” Wood said. “It suggested that she wanted control and to recreate a different market without a focus on agriculture or locally grown and produced products.”
Wells is hoping to bring the town a farmers market that includes children’s activities and entertainment as well as locally grown produce.
“A farmers market shouldn’t just be a piece of ground where people set up tents,” Wells said. “It should be more of a community event.”
She praised the Ocean Pines Farmers Market for its welcoming, vibrant atmosphere but said that Berlin residents needed a market they could reach by walking or biking.
“I think it’s important for us to continue with a farmers market downtown,” she said.
Wells said it was too early in the process for her to discuss a potential location, but she says she’s hopeful a new market will be up and running by summer. She’s not envisioning a town-run market but does want to be involved.
“I’m offering my ideas and advice on a possible public-private partnership,” she said.
Wells encouraged those interested in being involved in a new market to contact her.
According to DBFM organizers, they’ll be sharing information on where to find the Berlin market’s vendors on Facebook in the coming days. Organizers thanked the Berlin Fire Company for providing the market with space in recent years.
“The DBFM has been very happy with our arrangement with the Berlin Fire Company, and the market has thrived in this location until very recent years,” the statement reads. “The cumulative contributing factors leading to our closure of the market are in no way related to the BFC.”