Letter to Editor: fate of the Farmers Market
From the Editor:
The front-page article in our December 17th edition title, “Council votes to suspend Farmers Market on Courthouse square” has received a lot of attention.
Whether on Facebook, our website, or my inbox, it’s safe to say people have an opinion on the matter. We might not all agree on a solution, but it’s good to see residents engaging in open dialogue on the topic.
In a Facebook post we asked residents to submit an op-ed on the subject. Below you will find those submissions, printed in the order they were received by the editor.
I also invite everyone to contact your elected representative about this issue. They are the ones who passed the motion, and they are the ones who will ultimately decide what will happen long-term.
Mayor Lew White firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor Pro-Tem Angie Gonzales-Sanchez email@example.com
(At-large) Brad Westmoreland firstname.lastname@example.org
(District 1) Juan Mendoza email@example.com
(District 2) David Bryant firstname.lastname@example.org
(District 3) Kara McGregor email@example.com
(District 4) Jeffry Michelson firstname.lastname@example.org
The Farmers Market is awesome and fabulous and a great community event! It does seem that if it’s on the Square, that vendors should not be able to sell anything that is also sold at any store on the Square. Let the Farmers Market reps meet with Square store owners and work out a deal.
Lockhart NEEDS a great and large Farmers Market. Let Farmers Market decide their location and then work out agreements accordingly, if needed.
Just be consistent and don’t move it around
I’m the owner of a shop on the square. I’d like to first explain a bit about my background, as it seems misinformation is being spread about the nature of those who own the downtown businesses. It’s been said that we, with the exception of a few, are newcomers that must be independently wealthy since we are able to afford a B&M, that we are greedy and callous, with little regard for the market vendors trying to make extra money. In my case, this could not be further from the truth.
I’m originally from Bastrop, and moved to Austin shortly after high school in 2002 in the hopes of one day opening the shop I always dreamed of. I worked for years under a tent at various markets to reach this goal, often working several jobs in addition to make ends meet. When Austin started to morph into the city it is now with its high cost of living, it became clear I would need to realize my dream elsewhere. An opportunity presented itself in Lockhart and I decided to take it. I wasn’t quite ready for a brick and mortar financially speaking, but I made it work by living in the back of my store for two months without a kitchen, shower, or even hot water.
I’ve been in business for just over a year now. Having to close due to covid less than a year after I opened was difficult, but I made do with what I had, and after reopening in June I was slowly recovering. This was until 60 vendors started setting up on all eight of the busiest days each month. Foot traffic diminished to a crawl, and on many Saturdays I was lucky to have a single customer before 3 or 4 PM. Additionally, my sales plummeted. Saturday became my slowest day of the week. Asked to simply adapt, every attempt to do so on my part failed. People would come to the square and were immediately drawn to the large event wrapped around our town’s main attraction. They ended up spending all their time and money at the market, never setting foot into the brick and mortar stores.
Since the relocation of the market my sales have more than doubled over the last few Saturdays. Having spoken with other business owners, they too are enjoying the same increase of income, and returned foot traffic. We are all breathing a collective sigh of relief.
Lastly, I would like to touch on the fact that it’s been a prevalent opinion around town that the downtown businesses wish to put an end to the market. This is not true, nor has it ever been. We wish for the market to be successful, just not in a way that puts strain on our own businesses. We ALL need to be able to put food on our respective tables. We can accomplish this with mutual respect and compromise.
Im Sutton. I opened Market Street Cafe five yearsago this month. Sold everything, borrowed anything anyone would lend me, rented space, spent five months living on an air mattress while i remodeled, largely alone, but also with the help of a fella named Bill. Bill has helped in almost every small business down here since 2015. Two things a lot of us small business owners have in common. Our friend, Bill, and that many of us built these businesses with little money and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. None of us were, or are, under the illusion we are getting rich in downtown Lockhart. Like myself, many moved from a nearby city in search of the american dream. Be our own boss and live in a community where you know and support your neighbors and their businesses. That makes this situation so tough. For the last five years the farmers market has been just a couple die hard vendors returning week after week rain or shine. I’ve wondered why more didn’t come and had hopes it would blossom into a larger affair. Welcomed the vendors and citizens to use our bathroom all five years. Some stores even sold some of the vendor’s products. The square had really began to bustle with us seeing sales records five months in a row. The square was busier then ever. The virus hit and we went into the pandemic lockdown. It was scary. Most businesses and households suffered. Some got relief in the form of grants, and loans, and rent forgiveness. Others of us, not so lucky. This strained most businesses and those who haven’t gone under emptied savings, borrowed from friends and family, and even ran go fund me campaigns to try to survive. My cafe is one who reluctantly ran a go fund me campaign in our darkest hour and only barely made it enormous thanks to our fans consisting partly of other small business owners on the square. Its been a hard year, on everyone. This is largely why the farmers market on the square gained so much traction. People out of work and told to stay home. Folks discovered the plants they are raising can and should be sold at market. They are making handicrafts. Lots of entrepreneurial spirit blossomed. Folks trying to make ends meet to feed their families. Suddenly there were forty vendors including food vendors with no consideration for restrooms. The only restaurant downtown with our dining room closed and 72 people came to use our bathroom in one day. Because almost every other business were turning folks away. They were forced to get restrooms. The law requires anyone handling food to be within so many feet of a bathroom with hand washing capabilities. Before long the square was packed with over sixty vendors carrying many things that were not home grown or home made. Our concern was the parking. Most rentable spots on the square are rented and share a finite amount of spots. With sixty vendors taking up forty spots with tents and sixty spots with vendors’ cars the weekend parking was almost nonexistent. Saturday and Sunday have always been the busiest days at my cafe We are a popular destination for brunch. I know of many other small business who also depend on those days to survive.
This is great that you are soliciting civilized inputon the subject of a Farmers Market in Lockhart.I live in Lockhart (Old Kelley Rd) and have been here just a little more than a year. There is something that caught my attention the first time I came to Lockhart. This is the only town I know that has benches to sit on around the square. This is a signal to anyone that comes here that Lockhart has a sense of hospitality and comfort unlike anywhere else.
Hospitality should be the cornerstone of a market on the square. The purpose of having the market on the square, to quote the mayor from a council meeting, is “to attract people to come to the square and to visit our city and shops” (Mr Mayor I hope I got this correct). I am in agreement. The surrounding communities should feel invited to come. Visitors should feel invited to look, shop, eat, drink and enjoy our town.
I have worked in other markets and have spent some time studying what markets are and what effect they have on a community. Our market should have a clear goal and purpose. Decisions should be developed to serve the goals and purpose. All of the entities involved should be clear and committed to the goals and purpose.
Safety is always a major consideration. Credibility and integrity are very important. Leadership must be committed, honest and able to manage and receive criticism. A board of directors is needed to help guide the organization. Operating rules and communication techniques are essential. Marketing and advertising are essential. Money is needed. Budgeting is needed. Inclusion and outreach are what helps folks feel part of the event.
If we want a farmers’ market we must reach out to the growers and livestock producers (there are many). If we want artisans, craft people, and artists we need to reach out and invite.
I do not want an unregulated flea market in the middle of town.
I do not want to attract more people and not have adequate toilet and hand washing facilities.
I do not want unregulated parking and movement in the middle of town.
Co-ordination must include safety and emergency planning. Planning with shops, restaurants, market vendors, police, highway authorities, social organizations, county and city administrators, health departments, sales tax agencies is the job to get done.
We could create an attraction that would bring folks from many places. BUT, we need organization and trust. I suggest a small group to investigate and research how it is done in other communities, and to develop a transparent presentation of what is found. When we find unity, then we move To Implement the plan.
I am a crafts person, potter and look forward to a market. The Square Around the Court House is The Place to have it.
My name is Alexandra Worthington. I live inLockhart. Three years ago I needed to find a new building for my manufacturing plant. I looked at many different places and had almost lost hope when I thought, “What about Lockhart?” I found myself heading south on 183 and minutes later was on the downtown square. I was walking along Main Street and San Antonio when I noticed a beautiful 3 story brick building on the corner that was for sale. Something inside me said “this is it!” I sat down on the curb staring at the Brock building and visualized Culinary Cowgirls queso being manufactured in this building along with a small storefront.
So began my quest to bringing this building back to life. I have invested my life’s savings into this project. Not only did I open The Culinary Room on the first floor, with my business partner Alana Webre, but I remodeled the basement and the 2nd floor, adding two new restaurants to Lockhart – Little Trouble and The Eldorado. I have spent the whole of 3 years pouring blood, sweat and tears into the finish-out, sometimes wondering if I was crazy for taking this huge risk. But, all along the way I was getting encouragement from the locals, many who have now become my close friends. Combining all 4 businesses I’ve opened here in Lockhart, I have helped created over 40 jobs, all filled by locals.
During these three years, I have seen new businesses spring up on the square in the empty buildings that were scattered around. I saw how they were doing the same thing I had done, pouring everything they had into opening up their dream. Downtown Lockhart was reviving! People were traveling to Lockhart to see more than just BBQ. It was thrilling! Businesses were seeing an increase in traffic and sales. Times were good. The small farmer’s market on the weekends added to the newly revived charm of downtown.
Then Covid-19 presented a challenge. Many businesses on the square didn’t know if they would make it. We all pivoted to doing what we could to stay open. Then the farmer’s market started growing, adding booths that were not in line with what a farmer’s market is. Some of those booths directly competed with the storefronts, selling the same or similar items at a reduced cost due to no overhead and were a mere 30-50 feet away. In addition, all parking spaces were taken. We reached out to the farmer’s market to see if we could work together on a compromise so that we all could survive. For whatever reason, the agreements reached didn’t seem to materialize into action.
I have said this many times as have my fellow brick and mortar business owners. We did not want the farmers market to move. We simply wanted to work out a solution so that both the farmers market and the brick and mortars could co-exist. No matter how many times I tried to explain this, I was still vilified and called “greedy” and “an outsider”. I was extremely hurt by all the online comments leveled at me, as I know my intentions were good. Thank you to those who came to my defense.
My name is Leanna Ford and I live in Lockhart. I am a shop owner and a farmers daughter, so I support both. I would like to see the FARMERS market come back to the Square. However, it needs to follow its guidelines, have better vendor control and have reasonable operating hours. It became way too big way too fast. No one “ran” anyone off, this was a decision made by the market organizers. This lil towns economy can not support a full blown craft market every weekend. There should have been a conversation between businesses and the market months ago but there wasn’t and this is how we’ve gotten to this point.
Bring the farmers and plant people back please! I love the idea of a craft market a few times a year too, my shop would be happy to help and participate in that.
I hope we can all work together to have a supportive, thriving economy in our amazing little town.
I am Alana Webre, co-owner of the Culinary Room/Culinary Cowgirls Queso. I wanted to express our story to squelch some of the false rumors.
First, the FM did not move because of anyone. There was never a discussion on that. No one asked them to. They moved because of Covid: the vendors needed to space 6’ apart & they needed the room.
After, some business owners asked that the products be limited to artisan/homemade items & other rules present at most markets to help solve certain issues that the mass-produced items and those produce that had grocery stickers caused IF they returned.
THIS was the vote: simply that the FM remain at the Justice center, where they had already moved, until the businesses and city AND market could work out the health issues of items being prepared at home that weren’t allowed due to high risk of health issues under the cottage law, the spacing, creating set hours, solving the vendors parking in the store lots rather than the designated space. THIS is what the discussion was about. Not shutting the market down. It had already moved.
With lack of information, all business owners were dubbed both greedy and poor at business.
This is far from the truth, in spite of the FM cutting sales by 50% for most stores while in the square, due to the parking issues etc and them increasing by that amount after leaving.
We cannot be defined as greedy. We did not apply for, nor accept any free business grants/loans locally or from the government during Covid because we knew the businesses shut down needed them more. We would not close with the FM, but we knew many of our peers would due to the cut in sales and it is not our place to say “It won’t kill us so let everyone else close and it’s not our problem.” We are a community who wanted to share the playground, but create a working playground for all and it was not a fair playing field when some vendors who supplied goods to the stores were setting up their own booths and selling for half price due to no overhead the stores had to incur. Setting up a booth with them would only double the labor costs for a business.
To compare the FM vendors as “competition” such as the four BBQ places would only be a valid comparison if all the other BBQ places set up in the parking lot of one BBQ restaurant, and sold their goods for half price out of tents. We do not want to eliminate competition. To the contrary, we have helped “sell” Lockhart to new businesses that are opening on the square. We want to work together. We had discussions with the FM regarding the rules at other markets that assist the stores and keep the market working with them. These are the items we want to bring back that created the positive working relationship we had with the market on the square in the past. This takes all.
There was not increased foot traffic on Saturdays. The foot traffic just congregated outside. All shops have signage to draw visitors in. We all make very little on weekdays and Saturdays keep most afloat.
The Lockhart Downtown Business Association, a 501c6, is committed to the promotion and development of a vibrant, historic downtown commercial district with thriving merchants and events that attract and serve our community and tourism alike. We enthusiastically welcome a Farmers Market as defined by traditional standards and feel that it enhances the downtown experience. As an organization we continue to seek a collaborative, respectful relationship with market leadership that will cross promote and benefit all involved. We remain optimistic that we can reach a win/win solution and return the market to the square in the new year.
From Members of the LDBA Board of Directors