New location would bring more business, organizer says

Feb. 19, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Williston Farmers’ Market, a Saturday staple at the Village Green the past two summers, could move to a new location in the upcoming season.

Christina Mead, the market’s coordinator, said she’s been in talks with representatives of Maple Tree Place to hold the weekly event at the shopping center’s green.

Mead said while the Village location was charming, she believes moving the market to Maple Tree Place will benefit the vendors.

“It’s to have more space and more traffic,” Mead said. “And the Village Green, which is very picturesque and has been a great venue for us, isn’t set up well for entertainment.”

Maple Tree Place recently built a new bandstand at its green, which can accommodate live music. The open air mall also has better power outlets for food vendors and a better drainage system if it rains, Mead said.

A representative with Maple Tree Place was unavailable to comment on when or if the farmers’ market would be approved.

The Williston Farmers’ Market started two years ago at the Village Green and has had 20 to 25 vendors on summer Saturdays, Mead said. Vendors include farmers selling fruit and vegetables, local artisans with crafts and artwork, and merchants offering prepared food specialties. Around 300 to 400 shoppers have visited at its peak, Mead said, and she hopes the numbers will double with a move to Taft Corners.

When the market was organized a few years ago, Mead initially approached Inland Real Estate Management, the owners of Maple Tree Place, about hosting the market at the shopping center. The idea was rejected, but Mead said staff turnover at Inland has brought in people more amenable to community-oriented events.

Mixed feelings for vendors

While most vendors said they’ll follow the farmers’ market to Maple Tree Place if the deal is approved, they do it with a bit of sadness.

Williston resident Marsha Drake, a vendor who owns Sparkle Jewelry Design, said she’s torn by the idea of moving to Maple Tree Place, but believes she’ll see more customers.

“I love the Village and I love that there’s a farmers’ market on the green,” Drake said.

Still, the market is the only place where she sells her jewelry.

“No matter where it is, I’ll definitely be a part of it,” Drake said.

Lynne Gavin, a Richmond-based vendor who owns Sunflower Soaps, a small business specializing in handmade soap and body care, said she likes the idea of a community-based market in Williston Village. But she likes the possibility of new customers that a move to Maple Tree Place could bring.

“I think there’s a lot more traffic there on a Saturday morning,” Gavin said.

Gavin also has a booth at the Richmond Farmers’ Market, which takes place at the town’s village center, but it’s hard to compare the towns, she said. Richmond’s main businesses are located next to its village green, unlike Williston’s.

“I thought there’d be more traffic, more people (in Williston Village),” Gavin said.

Richmond vendor Michael Adams, the owner of Eddie’s Energy Bars and Green Mountain Mustard, said he initially thought a change to Maple Tree Place was a “bad move.”

“It didn’t exactly embody what a farmers’ market should be,” Adams said.

But he said he’s since changed his mind with the idea of more customers and better entertainment possibilities. And the Williston Farmers’ Market always has been a profitable venture for his burgeoning business.

“Out of the three farmers’ markets we did last summer, it was our best by far,” Adams said, explaining that he was a vendor at the Middlebury and Hinesburg farmers’ markets.

Maple syrup producer Bernie Comeau, who with his wife Ann owns Comeau Family Surgarhouse, thinks a move would be “win-win” for everybody involved. He believes the new location would bring in not only new customers, but new vendors as well.

“We’re bound to do more business,” Comeau said.

Mead said the decision has been based on what’s best for vendors, even though it won’t be easy leaving the peaceful surroundings of the Village Green.

“The Village is special,” Mead said.