Vendors: City Market deserves stable home

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The Charlottesville City Market rang up a record $1.2 million in 2009, more than six times what the market generated when it first moved to the Water Street lot in 1993. What’s more, 2010 will be the first year the market will accept food stamps and debit cards, which may spur more growth.

The Charlottesville City Market has called the Water Street parking lot home since 1993, but the city has looked at redeveloping the space at times. “I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that you can just plop some place,” says Cecile Gorham, chairwoman of local nonprofit Market Central.

However, some vendors feel that despite the market’s substantial growth, its future—namely, assuring it a more permanent location—is not a priority within city government. 
 
“I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that you can just plop some place, and sometimes we get the feeling that that’s what’s being done,” says Cecile Gorham, a former vendor and chairwoman of the nonprofit group Market Central, which includes roughly 30 vendors. 
 
The city owns the portion of the lot that hosts the market and, although it has never formally put the lot up for sale, it has examined ways that the space can be redeveloped. City Council briefly addressed the market’s plight last August. Councilors suggested Court Square and the Albemarle County Office Building lot on McIntire Road as possible new homes. According to Gorham, however, more thoughtful, inclusive debate is needed.
 
“I’m not against moving,” she said.  “I just think that if you do, you have to have some compelling reasons and a long-term plan in place.”
 
Although Gorham supposes that the recession has slowed that examination, she wants to ensure that the market’s fate gets proper attention long before any development plans are sketched.
 
“You’re talking about as many as 90 vendors and 4,000 customers, and to just willy-nilly move them around—you want to look out for the long-term interest and you don’t want to be moving it around again when it doesn’t work out,” she said.
 
Current vendors have varying levels of concern, but the consensus among those with whom C-VILLE spoke was that they don’t have the time to devote to the market’s big picture.
 
“Great municipal leadership would be helpful on this issue,” said jam vendor Daniel Perry. “It’s difficult for the market community to confront this, and it’s telling that the people who are spearheading this effort are involved more on the conceptual level than they are with getting up at 5am to make their living selling product.”
 
Christine Solem, co-owner of Satyrfield Farm in Albemarle County, said she doesn’t mind the market’s current non-institutionalized feel. Solem, whose stand is known for its donation-only goat cheese, is not worried about the market’s future.
 
“We try to stay out of the big-picture planning,” she said. “Our general opinion is that [the market] is not going anywhere.”
 
Other vendors, such as the Bertoni family of Appalachia Star Farm, would like to see a more permanent arrangement.
 
“A covered structure would help,” said Kathryn Bertoni. “Weather dramatically affects our sales. A rainy weekend at the market hurts a lot.” Contacted for comment, Charlottesville Pavilion manager Kirby Hutto said that no one has spoken to him about use of the Pavilion for the market, but hypothetically he could “see some logistical issues as far as getting vendors in and out.”
 
Michael Bertoni pointed out that Charlottesville needs to leverage its “world-class” reputation and consider a roofed pavilion. Scottsville and Harrisonburg have recently built pavilions for their markets, he noted. “I think with Charlottesville being the city that it is, it’s time for a permanent structure, built specifically for the market.”
 
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