At a public meeting on Friday night for a farmers’ market proposal in , local business representatives defended their interests by proposing alternatives to the current Saturday morning proposal in the heart of the village, while those in favor of the market stated the need for its visibility downtown during busy hours.
After hearing both sides, the organizers of the farmers' market were asked to provide additional locations - on top of those which were suggested - for the Village Board to consider.
Greenport Mayor David Nyce described the evening’s meeting as a “conversation” to listen to concerns. Nyce understood time was of the essence as the proposed opening day is just over a month away, but told the crowd his preference was to “do something right rather than quickly.”
“There will not be a definitive solution tonight,” said Nyce. “We need to find out what the issues are and if there are any solutions.”
Greenport Farmer’s Market, Inc. President Lara McNeil described the proposed farmer’s market as an “anchor attraction” for the village and not just another retail business. McNeil feels the Mitchell Park location is crucial for the visibility and accessibility.
“We’re only asking for this year, for 20 weeks only. We want open dialogue. The park is the center of the business district and heart of the community,” said McNeil.
Greenport Business Improvement District (BID) President Mike Acebo was supportive of the idea of a farmer’s market in Greenport, though he questioned the timing of the proposed one. He said his research showed most are held on weekends in interior parts of municipalities that are “dead” on weekends. Greenport, said Acebo, is busy on the weekends and would need the business boost promised by the market during the week.
“All our businesses struggle throughout the year and on weekdays," he said. "We do our business on weekends. I think the farmer’s market would be a great thing for a Tuesday or Wednesday. There will be more parking and fewer people downtown.”
Other concerns Acebo discussed were the location and parking. He suggested moving the market to the area near the railroad or in front of .
“I think the farmer’s market should go where it can work, where people can gain access to it, and when the timing is correct,” Acebo said.
Leueen Miller spoke on behalf of the Greenport Business Association was supportive, but voiced her reservations.
“Personally, I’m in favor of farmers’ markets. They are a creative way to bring fresh foods into a community,” said Miller. “This proposal is an experiment at best. We had one before and it didn’t take off.”
Merchants feel as though the village, by giving away the park for free and subsidizing other merchants, may compromise their already short season, according to Miller. She also said some of the products that will be sold at the farmer’s market are already on the shelves in village shops.
Chris Browder, owner of Browder’s Birds, has signed on to be a vendor at the market and stressed the importance of farmer’s markets to his business. Regulators limit where he can sell his organic pastured poultry to farmer’s markets and consumer direct sales.
“Mitchell Park is the ideal location because it will bring hundreds of people downtown. As a small business owner, I have to choose where we sell our birds carefully,” said Browder.
Browder said if the market is moved from Mitchell Park he may have to re-consider whether he will participate.
Greenport artist Arden Scott was on the original committee who helped design Mitchell Park and reminded the board of the original intentions.
“One thing everyone agreed on was that there should be no commercial activity in the park. I implore you to respect our original wishes,” said Scott.
Scott suggested using the American Legion building and said she would definitely patronize the market if it were in a different spot.
Dan Latham of Orient-based Latham Farms knows first-hand what type of business a vegetable market may bring.
“My name is Dan Latham and, up until tonight, I thought I had a farmer’s market in Greenport. From what’s been said tonight, I have no idea what type of market this is going to be,” said Latham.
Latham has a vegetable stand across the street from the IGA on First Street. His market is open daily during the summer season. When he first brought his vegetables to Greenport 16 years ago, he tried to put the stand on the docks by Claudio’s Restaurant and the Clam Bar and it failed.
“They don’t buy vegetables down there. The people are willing to pay $10 for a beer, but they are not interested in vegetables,” Latham said.
Trustee Chris Kempner believed there was value in the issues brought up today and encouraged the organizers to look for other potential vendors.
“The overriding message is that the park is not the right location for this,” said Kempner.
Nyce summed up the issues that needed further review as the location, parking, and vetting the vendors. Potential alternative locations suggested were the railroad parking lot, the Polo Grounds, Greenport School, closing off a portion of First Street, and the American Legion Hall. The Mayor asked McNeil if her group would provide two additional locations for the board to consider.
McNeil was hesitant to support alternative locations because she felt that a commercial project has as much right to be in Mitchell Park as anything else.
“I question the suggestions that are taking away parking from the village and the school will have construction going on this summer,” McNeil said.
Trustee George Hubbard also asked the group to consider using the parking lot at the end of the Mitchell Park boardwalk, between the Chowder Pot Pub and the North Ferry.
Nyce said the trustees would discuss and come to a final decision at the Monday, April 18 work session and a resolution, if agreed upon, would be on the agenda for the Monday, April 25 meeting.