Lockhart City Council votes to suspend Farmers Market on Courthouse square
It has been two weeks since the Lockhart Farmers Market moved from the Courthouse Square to the Justice Center parking lot. The move came to accommodate the annual Dickens Parade on December 6th, but it also helped to calm tension between downtown Lockhart businesses and the 50-60 weekend vendors.
In that time, downtown businesses have seen an uptick in sales and foot traffic, with some reporting an increase of nearly 50 percent. The Farmers Market has not seen as much success, and a petition began circulating to bring the market back to the square.
At the December 15th Lockhart City Council meeting concerned downtown business owners spoke out against the move. None of those who gave public comment said they were against the Farmers Market but wanted to see more regulations to ensure an even playing field.
“We don’t want the Farmer’s Market to shut down, but with all due respect, we don’t want anyone else to either,” Alana Weber, co-owner of The Culinary Room testified. “When you have two playing fields that are unequal, one will lose.”
The brick-and-mortar businesses pay rent for their space, which has continued to rise with the popularity of Lockhart. They are also on the hook for taxes, insurance, employee costs, utilities, and for some, the repayment of COVID relief loans.
Vendors of the Farmers Market pay a nominal fee to set up their tents on the weekends and are not bound by the same rules and regulations as the brick-and-mortar shops. Without a governing body, and being on both city and county property, it’s unclear who has to take responsibility for what.
The market exploded from a dozen tents to 50-60 in just a few months over the summer. What started as farmers bringing their fresh-grown produce, quickly became vendors selling items purchased over the internet, to food being sold without any regard for where it was made or using what health codes—all rules the brick-and-mortar shops have to abide by.
“This is not healthy competition,” Leanna Ford, co-owner of Lone Star Workshop testified. “This is taking over and capitalizing on the hard work and investments many small business owners have made in the square.”
The council was not allowed to comment during the testimony by the businesses, and not a single person from the Farmers Market testified at the hearing.
Following a nearly hour-long executive session, the council voted unanimously to suspend Farmers Markets from being held in downtown Lockhart.
“I move that we suspend all Farmers Market on the Courthouse Square until such time that the city can meet with the county, the Farmers Market participants, and the downtown busines owners to formulate regulations for future farmers markets on the square, if any,” Council Member Kara McGregor said at the December 15th council meeting.
The motion was the only comment issued by the council at the meeting. A timeframe for when a report would be issued, or how long the suspension was for was not given.
In a call following the meeting Mayor Lew White said he could not elaborate on what was said in the Executive Session but reaffirmed the council’s position.
“Businesses on the square have expressed a strong objection to them returning to the square under the conditions they were allowed to operate under,” the mayor said. “Since our Downtown Business District is something we are very proud of, something we have worked hard to promote and develop, we thought we’d better stop the market until we can sit down with the county, and the downtown businesses and the market to try and come up with a better model that will help everybody.”