Long a downtown institution, the Burlington Farmers Market is preparing to move to its new home in a South End parking lot.
The summer market will open at the same time on May 11 but in a different place, as City Hall Park, the market’s home for nearly four decades, will soon close for a two-year renovation.
By day, 345 Pine Street is a dirt lot between the Barge Canal Market and the Chittenden Solid Waste District drop-off that Dealer.com workers use for overflow parking. But every Saturday through October, it will be home to the summer market’s 90-plus vendors — a huge relief to the organization's executive director, Chris Wagner.
“At first it was mutiny,” Wagner said, recalling last fall when he told vendors they were being uprooted. “It was a challenge for me, but I was more than happy to do it to really convince them of how exciting this location could be and how up-and-coming the South End is."
The market steering committee considered 17 temporary spots and eventually settled on Pine Street. The park renovation is scheduled to begin this July, according to Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.
Wagner said he’s communicated frequently with the mayor’s office, most recently to solidify a $10,000 sponsorship to cover incidentals from the move, such as portable restrooms and benches, that will retain the “park feel” at the parking lot.
“It was basically acknowledging construction has some impacts on them,” Weinberger said, adding, “We’re trying to be as supportive as possible as the city of this key institution.”
A memorandum of understanding between the two sides would also guarantee the market a home at City Hall Park at a reduced rate for three years after the park reopens. The first year back would be free, and the price would increase $5,000 annually up to the original $15,000 fee in year four, the draft MOU shows.
The Burlington City Council will review the agreement in the next couple of months, Weinberger said.
During the next two summers, the market will pay Dealer.com just $60 annually to rent its lot. The savings freed up funds for tents, signage and other promotional materials to publicize the move, Wagner said.
The market space will be closed to vehicles, but free parking is available behind the Maltex building at 431 Pine Street. As usual, there will be on-site bike parking and entertainment. The lot is also big enough to hold a “community spot” for groups such as the University of Vermont Extension Master Gardener Program and All Breed Rescue. Wagner said he couldn’t squeeze in that feature at busy City Hall Park.
Another perk? Vendors can serve alcohol because the market will be off city property. For eight markets this season, Citizen Cider and Zero Gravity Craft Brewery will host a beer garden so shoppers can chase their dumplings or artisan popcorn with local libations.
Still in progress, though, are logistics for a shuttle to capture waterfront traffic and provide transportation for lower-income residents.
“It would be really expensive,” Wagner said of a shuttle. “We're trying to figure out if there's some way we can trade or we can barter” for the service.
Moe O’Hara, owner of the Thirty-odd shop on Pine Street, said her customers are thrilled they’ll no longer have to contend with downtown crowds at the South End market. She sells her upcycled crafts at her Recycle Moe booth and will make the move to the new space.
“Maybe we’ll lose a few tourists, [but] we’ll gain in our local economy, our local customers,” O’Hara said. “People are going to seek it out. They’re going to want that burger every Saturday.”
That’s the hope for Does’ Leap Farm purveyor George van Vlaanderen, whose family has sold organic goat cheese at the market for 20 years and whose grilled sausages have a devoted following. Wagner said van Vlaanderen was “a tough nut to crack” when it came to convincing him the new locale would be viable.
But once Fairfield-based van Vlaanderen scoped out the area, he realized it has potential, calling it “the next frontier in Burlington.”
That reaction is typical of visitors who remember Pine Street as “this not so great place,” O’Hara said.
“I’ve just seen it grow,” she said. “For the past eight years, it’s been up and coming.”
Van Vlaanderen said he still has “a mild concern” about losing customers this year and next, but he also recognizes he could attract new ones from nearby Pine Street neighborhoods. Maybe the market’s success doesn’t depend on location, location, location, he suggested.
“It’s just so much more about the vendors and the management of the market than it is the venue. That’s really the heart of the market,” van Vlaanderen said. “I really think that vibe will continue regardless of where the market is.”
Still, Weinberger hopes the market will return to City Hall Park when construction concludes.
“They have been one of the contributors to a very strong downtown,” he said. “I’m eager to see them come back.”