Burlington Plans New Outdoor Market in City Hall Park | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Burlington Plans New Outdoor Market in City Hall Park


Published April 5, 2022 at 3:01 p.m.
Updated April 19, 2022 at 1:58 p.m.

  • City of Burlington/Renee Greenlee
  • City Hall Park
Three years after renovations uprooted the Burlington Farmers Market from City Hall Park, the city is planning a new outdoor market there this summer that will run on essentially the same schedule.

Tentatively called BTV MKT, the event will feature handcrafted goods, art and prepared foods every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., starting June 4.

A half-mile away, on Pine Street, the farmers market will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays starting May 7. 

Despite the apparent competition, organizers of the farmers market say they’re not concerned about losing business to the city’s new venture. But they do wish the schedules didn't conflict, and they were surprised to hear about the city’s plans on social media last week.
“I think that the city’s really trying to have something positive going on in the park on a Saturday,” Sarah Coon, president of the farmers market steering committee, said. “It's kind of unfortunate how they went about it.”

Church Street Marketplace director Kara Alnasrawi, whose department’s Love Burlington campaign is organizing the market with Burlington City Arts, said the city’s event isn’t meant to be a slight to the longstanding farmers market. She thinks the events can coexist.

“I don’t think it’s a conflict to be programming two sections of the city on the same day,” Alnasrawi said, noting that BTV MKT will advertise the farmers market with signs around the park. “We actually think there's a great opportunity for cross-marketing. It's a nine minute walk from one to the other.”

BTV MKT was inspired by the successful winter market Burlington held in City Hall Park the last two holiday seasons, Alnasrawi said. It’s also an expansion of the Burlington City Arts Artists’ Market, which previously ran adjacent to the farmers market when both were in City Hall Park. The art market relocated to Church Street when the park closed for renovations in 2019.
That construction forced the farmers market to move to a parking lot in the South End after nearly 40 years downtown. City Hall Park reopened in fall 2020 but without enough space, market officials say, for their 80 to 90 vendors — though the city insists it could accommodate them. Cost is also a factor: The South End space rents for just $60 a year, while the park fee is $15,000.

Alnasrawi says the city came up with its own concept when farmers market organizers decided not to return to the park this year. BTV MKT will have between 40 and 50 vendors, and more than 100 have applied so far, she said.

Chosen vendors can participate in some or all of the market’s 18 weeks. Artists and makers will pay $30 per week and food vendors $50 per week with a 10 percent discount for signing up for nine weeks or more. The farmers market charges $65 per Saturday for on-call vendors, or $1,280 for the 26-week season.

The city is also offering grants to small businesses that otherwise couldn't afford the fee, and will include trainings on how to best display their wares and advertise on social media.

"We're using [the market] as an incubator program for young entrepreneurs who maybe wouldn't normally be able to access the kind of customer base that you would see in the downtown," Alnasrawi said.

Several farmers market vendors have received an invitation from the city to participate in its new market, prompting them to reach out to organizers with concern. Alnasrawi, however, says the message was sent to a large mailing list and that the city was not attempting to poach vendors.

Burlington Farmers Market director Hannah Stearns said she’s not worried about losing vendors or customers. Most vendors are also voting members of the market and have already paid their annual fee, organizers said.
Coon agreed but said she wishes the city's market was being held on Sundays so that customers and vendors could have another day to shop and sell — and said farmers market organizers would have suggested that, had they been asked. Several commenters have suggested the same thing on Love Burlington's Instagram posts.

"It was surprising, and it was a little bit puzzling," Coon said of the city's decision. "You're like, 'Whoa, is this really the best we could come up with?'"

Mieko Ozeki, for one, indicated she was not surprised. The farmers market manager when City Hall Park closed, Ozeki said Burlington City Arts director Doreen Kraft told her at the time that the city would start a competing market if the farmers market didn't return when the park reopened. Kraft was on vacation and unavailable for an interview. Alnasrawi said she was unaware of that conversation with Ozeki.

Ozeki said she doesn't necessarily think the city is trying to take business from the farmers market. She said officials likely miss the economic boon that the market was to the Church Street Marketplace and wanted to fill the gap.

Alnasrawi said downtown has certainly felt the market's absence, and that the city is continuing conversations with farmers market organizers about someday returning to City Hall Park.  Markets just typically perform best on Saturdays, she said.

"We just didn't want to go another summer without programming in the park," she said. "We've got this great park with this fountain, and we want to welcome families and have music and food and fun on the weekend."

Clarification, April 7, 2022: Burlington officials say that City Hall Park has enough space to accommodate the farmers market — a point not included in a previous version of this story.