Harper's Choice farmers' market won't reopen

March 05, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Less than a year after it opened, the Rouse Co. has decided to close the weekly farmers' market in Harper's Choice Village Center in west Columbia to make way for construction of a new grocery store.

Rouse marketing manager Elizabeth Buckley said there would not be enough parking to accommodate the sellers and the buyers at the market when construction of the Safeway store begins in April. The store is expected to open in the spring of 1998.

"We were there for a year and we said we couldn't make any guarantees that it would be open longer," Buckley said. "Now we've identified the construction time lines and there just aren't any parking facilities to accommodate building the store and trucks for the farmer's market."

Many of the 18 farmers who sell goods at the market said they are angered to hear it is closing. The market last year ran from the first week of May until mid-November.

"It's painful to lose a market this close to the season," said Paul Benton of Charles County. "It's difficult for farmers because most have started growing their berries in the fields and their plants in the greenhouses, and now they've lost the market they were going to sell at. Now you have to scramble to make up for the income."

Daniel Reitzloff, who lives in Oakland Mills and sold perennials at the Harper's Choice market, added: "I was pretty surprised to hear it's closing, especially after things barely got off the ground last year."

The Harper's Choice farmers' market was the second in Columbia. Another 22 growers sell at a weekly market during the warmer months of the Oakland Mills Village Center. Both markets have offered home-grown produce, plants and flowers.

Because of the closing of the Harper's Choice market, many farmers say they now expect the 9-year-old Oakland Mills market to see an influx of sellers this year.

But the Oakland Mills Village Center's parking lot -- the site of the market -- can accommodate only 22 sellers, organizers said.

"They are taking away one of the few markets where farmers can sell directly to consumers and get a decent price for their goods," said Phil Gottwals, a county agricultural marketing specialist.

Some farmers and residents say they would like to see a daily farmers' market set up in the space occupied by the Oakland Mills' Giant grocery store, which is closing in June.

"That's one thing we'll look into and consider," said Buckley of the Rouse Co., owner of the soon-to-be vacant Giant space.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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