April 2, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Williston Farmers’ Market will be staying at the village this summer after negotiations fell through with Maple Tree Place.

Market manager Christina Mead said the owners of Maple Tree Place, the Illinois-based Inland U.S. Management, were initially enthusiastic about holding the market at the outdoor mall’s center green when she approached them last month. Mead said it would be a win-win situation for both parties, drawing more shoppers to the market and to stores at the mall. But not long into negotiations, Mead said, Inland representatives began asking for too many conditions to appease one of their tenants, Shaw’s Supermarket.

“It was getting too corporate, too much micromanaging for me,” Mead said.

Mead said Shaw’s asked to hang a large banner stating the supermarket chain was a sponsor and requested a free booth at the market, among other stipulations. Mead said Shaw’s had not offered to fund any portion of the market’s operating costs to be labeled a sponsor.

“How do I tell my vendors they have to pay for a booth while Shaw’s doesn’t have to?” Mead said. “We’d like them to pay if everyone has to pay.”

Mead felt the demands cut into the market’s ability to be an independent and unique event, so she decided to call off talks.

“We’re going to stay in the village green and we’re happy about that,” Mead said.

Shaw’s did not return calls seeking comment by press deadline.

Inland’s Vice President of Property Management, Bill Parks, said it was “unfortunate” both parties couldn’t come to an agreement. Parks said Inland was committed to making Maple Tree Place a community gathering place, and hinted at hosting its own fair or market with the failure to reach an agreement with Mead.

“We are exploring the possibilities for Vermont-based vendors to showcase local produce and arts/crafts in a more festival-like atmosphere,” Parks said in an e-mail to the Observer.

While the Williston Farmers’ Market will remain in the village, Mead said there would be some helpful additions taking place in the event’s third season. The market received a $4,000 grant from the Northeast Organic Farming Association, or NOFA, of Vermont. The grant has gone to purchasing machines that accept credit and debit cards, as well as an Electronic Benefit Transfer system that allows people to buy goods through government assistance funds, like food stamps.

Mead said the market also received another $1,400 grant from NOFA to update its electric utility system. In previous years on the green, Mead said vendors and entertainers have had difficulty accessing reliable electrical outlets.

In the long run, Mead believes it’s a good thing the market will remain a part of the village.

“We’ve been growing, so we must be doing something right,” she said.

The summer farmers’ market kicks off on May 30 and takes place each Saturday through October.