Picking season

For 17 years, the Charlottesville City Market has been held at the city-owned Water Street parking lot. But with 80 hopeful vendors currently on the waiting list for slots, the market’s site is bursting at its seams.

The Charlottesville City Market task force wants to find a permanent site with double the space currently available at the Water Street parking lot, and will present a recommendation to City Council by July.

That, however, should change soon. A task force appointed by City Manager Maurice Jones last December has been reviewing more permanent, and potentially bigger, sites around the city.

“We hear a lot of complaints from folks who don’t come to the Saturday market because it’s too crowded,” says Brian Daly, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

“Ideally we would like to have upwards of two acres for the market location itself. It doesn’t mean you would use all of it for vending space, but it would help the market spread out a bit.” The current location provides the market with roughly .83 acres.

Although successful—gross sales have increased each of the past 15 years—the market’s temporary location, coupled with high fees, has made it difficult for some vendors to stay put. When Eric Plaksin of Waterpenny Farm, a former Charlottesville market vendor, learned that his mentors were retiring from an Arlington farmers market, he jumped at the chance to fill their spot.

“We feel like we pay much higher fees than we pay at other markets, for smaller spaces,” he says. Every vendor is required to pay a 6 percent slot fee from their daily sales—or $5 for those with modest sales. “For us, that’s thousands a year,” says Plaksin. In Arlington, he will pay a $333 annual fee.

Stephanie Anderegg-Maloy, Market manager, says Charlottesville’s fee “is pretty consistent” with what other Virginia markets charge. Fees cover the salaries of market employees, advertising, operating supplies and the holiday market.

After four meetings, the task force has narrowed down the list of potential locations to 13 contenders. Among them are the lot at the Amtrak station, the IX Building, the Staples parking lot opposite the Omni hotel and space at the Charlottesville Tire Center on West Main. Other parking lots include Charlottesville High School, the Jefferson School and the current location. The list also includes Garrett Avenue, Court Square, the Martha Jefferson Campus on Locust Avenue, the Albemarle County office building on McIntire Road and others.

In the case of private properties, “the city will be talking to the owners of those sites, and then that will determine whether we can even consider them or not,” says Judy Berger, community nutrition manager with the Jefferson Board of Aging (JABA) and a member of the task force.

The task force has made permanence its top priority. “The way I see permanency is almost as ownership,” says Cecile Gorham, task force member and chairwoman of Market Central, a nonprofit advisory group. “Say you want to have the market more than one day a week. If you have permanence, then you can have it more than one day a week.” 

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