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Webster Groves Farmers Market Ends 6-Year Run At Gazebo In Old Orchard

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February 09, 2017
After six seasons of operation in Old Orchard, the Webster Groves Farmers Market will not open in 2017.

The Webster Groves City Council agreed on Feb. 7 to support a recommendation from the Farmers Market Commission to discontinue the city's Farmers Market. Market officials say market attendance had dropped, vendor sales numbers are down, and competition from specialty grocers has become more intense.

For about six years the market operated from 3 to 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays, from May through early October in and around the area of Gazebo Park.

Director of Parks and Recreation Scott Davis told the council that the market has ended each of the last three years with a negative balance and that many of its revenue streams, such as vendor fees, sponsorships and fundraisers, have taken a downturn.

"While the market is located in a very prominent and visible spot, Gazebo Park is not all that big," Davis said. "At times, parking can appear to be an issue. Location of the park along busy roadways makes it harder to bring families with younger kids, and the park does not have any other attractions to entice families to come and stay."

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The Farmers Market Commission had considered moving the market to another park or city-owned parking lot. Doing so, however, would have resulted in the loss of a $5,000 annual contribution from the Old Orchard Business District.

Davis said that most successful markets are held on Saturday, with more than 20 such Saturday markets operating in the St. Louis region.

A commission survey of vendors showed an overwhelming lack of support for a change to Saturday or Sunday, Davis said, because most were already attending other area markets on those days.

For several years now grocery chains have been carrying local produce, with several new specialty grocers like Lucky's Market in Rock Hill providing competition, Davis said.

"While there is a dedicated group of individuals who come to the market, commission members felt it was not a wise use of city funds to support a market for such a small percentage of the population," Davis said.

The city has paid a market manager $14,000 a year, as well as $2,500 each season in part-time worker pay.

Councilman Ken Burns said the market had been given a "good chance to succeed."

"We originally set up the market to bring more business into the city but, especially in the summer, people come to the market to shop but don't stay," said Farmers Market Commission Chair Chalegne O'Brien.

Despite efforts to publicize the market in various ways, Davis estimated a budget shortfall of more than $2,000 if the market were allowed to operate this year. He said there was a $2,000 shortfall last year.

Council Member Matt Armstrong said that maybe the time had come to allow the market to die, for now, with the possibility of resurrecting it at a future date.

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