Farmers market urged for downtown Westminster

April 04, 1994|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

City Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein has just started the spadework to plant a farmers market in downtown Westminster. But some critics are predicting it won't grow because the area is saturated.

Others, including several downtown merchants and county tourism officials, like the idea.

Ms. Orenstein suggested a farmers market as a way to bring more people downtown, boosting the city's revitalization effort. The city received a $27,000 state grant last week to apply to revitalization.

Local business and government leaders organized under the name Greater Westminster Development Corp. are leading the planning, but council members also are discussing ideas. Councilman Damian L. Halstad is working on a proposal to extend hours at the library on East Main Street.

"If I could get fruits and vegetables downtown, I could do more of my shopping downtown," Ms. Orenstein said. She stopped at a farmers market in central Fredericksburg, Va., last summer that was "abuzz with people," she said.

Shane White, co-owner of White's Bicycles and White's Emporium on West Main Street, called a farmers market "a wonderful idea."

"It would definitely bring more people downtown," she said, adding that a market site should not interfere with parking.

"They do it in Europe and it works great," said Michael H. Klein, who owns the House of Antiques and Collectibles on West Main Street.

"A fabulous idea," declared Cynthia Blum, owner of Radiant Health on East Main Street and former operator of an organic produce stall at the South Carroll Farmers Market. "I would like to see a real farmers market with produce, things you can't get at the mall."

Representatives of existing local markets say one more market could be too many.

"How many of these markets is this area going to support?" asked Lee Anske, a woodcarver at the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market in Westminster's Crossroads Square Shopping Center. "Nothing against competition. I think we're as good as anyone else, but you can overdevelop."

The Pennsylvania Dutch market is open Thursday through Saturday year-round and offers craft items, flowers, fish, meats and produce.

The kind of market Mrs. Blum described may be difficult to set up, said Connie Bialecki, manager of the farmers market at the Agricultural Center in Westminster.

"It's always a struggle to find produce operators," Mrs. Bialecki said. She said many produce growers sell directly to restaurants or open roadside stands rather than rent a market stall.

She also questioned whether the community could support another market. "I don't want to rain on their parade, but sometimes you wonder why people can't come up with something more original," she said.

The market at the Agricultural Center, now in its 23rd year, is open Saturday mornings during the summer -- this year from June 18 through Sept. 3 -- and at Christmas and Easter.

Mrs. Bialecki said stall operators sell a range of produce. The governing board requires that it be in-season local fruits and vegetables -- no bananas, for example.

The South Carroll market, also seasonal, is expected to reopen in Eldersburg this year.

County Tourism Administrator Joan D. Meekins said she had not discussed the idea with Ms. Orenstein yet, but she doubted market saturation would be a problem.

A farmers market in downtown Westminster "could be a beautiful tie-in" with county efforts to promote agri-tourism and could enhance, rather than detract from, other local farmers markets, Ms. Meekins said.

The Fredericksburg market that drew Ms. Orenstein's attention last year has been operating for 30 years.

Farmers park along the street and display their goods on the sidewalk, said Alma Leitch, commissioner of revenue. Farmers are allowed to use the space from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily all year. But market rules permit them to sell only farm and forest products, fish and shellfish.

"They're not there all year," Ms. Leitch said. "If you don't have anything to sell, you don't show up."

Ms. Orenstein said she already has received inquiries from people who want to organize the market and find a site. She said she plans to discuss the idea with the marketing and special events committee of the Greater Westminster Development Corp.

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