Despite that the Albany farmers market brought close to 1,000 people to Solano Avenue weekly during its first season, and infused other local businesses with up to $7,000 each week, city staffers say they're looking for a new location for the gathering following reports from some local businesses that the market harmed sales.
Finding another location, however, has proven difficult. The market needs to be located on a block that will not obstruct residential driveways or impact AC Transit routes. The market also requires a hard surface and, as such, would not be permitted on grass.
Though city staff and market organizers have spent considerable time seeking another location within Albany's limits, no other appropriate spot has yet been identified, leaving the market's future in town questionable.
At least five local businesses—including Subway, Bill Moore & Associates, Chroma Salon, Richard Liao Acupuncture Herb Clinic and Albany Sauna & Hot Tubs—said the for them during its first season. These challenges including a parking crunch for their customers, noise, limiting their visibility and general disruption.
The market last season, run by the Ecology Center, was located on Solano Avenue just west of San Pablo Avenue, near or directly in front of the businesses listed above.
Several of these business owners voiced their concerns at a meeting Nov. 8 of the Planning & Zoning Commission where the city body reviewed, but did not act on, the market's use permit. A number of these merchants also met with a smaller group of city staff and planning commissioners following that public meeting.
(See live tweets, unedited, from the Nov. 8 meeting attached to this story as a PDF. The meeting is also available on KALB 33 here.)
Community Development Director Jeff Bond said, as a result of these complaints, the city is searching for another location for the market.
Bond said the Planning & Zoning Commission will consider the market's permit again in a public meeting in March, but an exact date has not yet been set.
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THE SPECIFIC CONCERNS
In November, several businesses put on record their reported problems resulting from the market.
The owner of Albany Sauna & Hot Tubs wrote to the city that his business decreased 60-70 percent during market hours.
Acupuncturist Richard Liao read a letter from his landlord at the Nov. 8 meeting, stating that letting the market continue would be at the expense of existing small businesses on Solano.
Liao said patients from his practice with mobility issues had trouble finding nearby parking.
A patient from Liao's practice said the market made it too noisy for him during acupuncture sessions.
Chroma Salon owner Terri Varela told planning commissioners that market trucks blocked existing local businesses and limited their foot traffic as a result.
"We shouldn't have to leave our clients to hustle farmers market customers with coupons," she said. "For pedestrians, there isn't any room for discovery."
Varela also that expressed merchant concerns outlined the month the market began.
OTHER BUSINESSES EXPRESS SUPPORT
Allen Cain, who runs the , said last week that he'd fought hard to keep the market on Solano during its first season to "raise the profile of an otherwise less-traveled" stretch of it.
Cain said he'd spoken to a number of Solano Avenue merchants who said they were happy to have the market nearby. He added that he hoped the city would not "allow the needs of the few to outweigh the needs of the many."
Winkie Campbell-Notar, who runs the city's , said chamber members "generally supported" the farmers market and found that people spent more money in town on market days.
"We supported it last year and we'd like to see it back," she said Friday, adding that this was not a formal board position, but that it represented her view, and the views of several Chamber members she checked in with.
"The feedback I got from people was that it was a small inconvenience one day a week, but it got people saying, 'Look at this, look at this,' as far as other businesses. I think people went back and bought things," Campbell-Notar said.
Chief Mike McQuiston said last week that, traffic-wise, the market had "worked out better than I had expected." In the first several weeks, the Police Department responded to several requests for additional signage and a different way of letting people know what was going on. Otherwise, McQuiston said, he wasn't aware of significant traffic impacts.
MARKET FUTURE "UP IN THE AIR," SAYS ORGANIZER
Ben Feldman, an Albany resident who works for the Ecology Center and ran last year's market, said he was waiting for the city to make the next move.
The market does not yet have a permit for 2012.
"We're getting into a place where the ability to start this year is in jeopardy," he said Friday. "Things are up in the air."
Feldman said he'd hoped the market would begin in May, as it did last year, but that this was not looking likely given the current lack of resolution about where the market would be located.
Feldman said he and the city did "an exhaustive search" around town last year for alternative locations, but hadn't found one.
He said he was sympathetic to local businesses that had problems as a result of the market, and "would love to work with them to make sure there's a way it can work going forward."
Feldman said he's offered the market's community booth (where local organizations can reach out to the public) to those who took issue with the market, but none have so far accepted.
"We offered different promotional opportunities to the businesses. Those offers are still on the table," he said. "We're willing to listen to any of their ideas about how we can make the market work."
Feldman said, unfortunately, he didn't see an easy way to remove the vendor trucks from the perimeter, as vendors need to use them to store their products, equipment and cash.
Feldman said it would be important for the public to speak up if they want the market to return.
"If residents and the city of Albany want the market to be there, we want to be there, and we will be there," he said. "At this point, I'm not sure how we're going to make it happen unless something changes."
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