Will the lure of fresh-baked goods and ripe vegetables get you to park in Bel Air's multilevel garage?
Town officials hope so.
That's one reason they invited the Farmers' Market to take over some of the metered spaces on the garage's lower level on Wednesdays from noon to 6 p.m.
The garage, which opened last summer, has had ahard time attracting customers. But Farmers' Market hasn't.
The market represents the town's latest effort to lure more parkers to thegarage. Previous promotional efforts included tours of the garage and a live radio broadcast from the garage rooftop.
"The garage was originally designed so the farmers could go there on market days and be out of the weather, but they had so much success at Bond and Thomas streets that the Saturday market stayed there," said Carol Deibel, the town planning director.
But the Wednesday afternoon Farmers' Market had nowhere to go after the Tollgate Mall, which has experienced financial problems, decided not to allow the market to use its parking lot this year.
Deibel said a lack of customers in the garage has been a problem for town officials since the $7.1 million facility was erected last summer. Some of the spaces in the garage are leased to county employees.
"We are getting more people who are using themetered spaces," said Deibel, who was unable to give a specific number because the town counts money taken in by the meters, not cars using the metered spaces.
"Maybe this will bring us some money from people who may not usually come into town, but who will come for the market and use the garage," she said.
Caleb Winslow, who was selling day lilies last week at the Wednesday market, said he had only beenin the garage once before setting up his cart. He and his wife, Ann,of Jarrettsville, are among five vendors who set up stalls. Eleven vendors have signed up to sell their crops when vegetables and fruits have ripened.
"I was only in the garage once before, for the Bel Air art festival,
and they had free parking that day," said Winslow. "I think the concept of the Farmers' Market will grow as soon as people are aware of the convenience."
Betsy Depman, who, with Maura Barrows, bakes fresh spinach and feta cheese pies, calzones and chocolate chip and blueberry scones, is worried people might object to paying for parking at the market. "But we're not affected by the weather," said Depman. "I hope this catches on."
Cheri Denn of Bel Air, acustomer at the market Wednesday, said she doesn't think the cost will keep people away. "I come for the good food. I come every Wednesday, and I like it in the garage, especially for rainy days," said Denn.
Henry J. Lewis, a farmer who sold out of his beets and cabbages within the first hour Wednesday, agrees.
"It's cool in here; you don't have the sun beating down on you," said Lewis. "And it's not like they're parking all day. People will buy their vegetables and go home. If they want the produce, they probably won't mind paying the quarter."