The neighborhood has been buzzing about the fate of the Larchmont Farmers Market since the announcement that construction of a new playground, which will take up 1,200 square feet of the Larchmont Blvd. surface parking lot, which is now allocated entirely to the market on Sundays, was scheduled to start soon. (The Larchmont Chronicle originally reported construction would start in January, and when that date slipped, the Buzz reported a new start date of February 1. That didn’t happen either, and Farmers Market vendors have told us they have now heard it will be in March. But so far there is no official start date, and our most recent inquiry to Parks and Recreation has yielded no new information.)’
While word of a start date is still pending, however, there have recently been lots of questions about what will happen to the Larchmont Farmers Market, both during construction and afterward, since construction itself will be disruptive and the space allocated to the market will be reduced after the park is built. If it’s up to the Market itself, however, it’s definitely not leaving any time soon.
“We will continue to be in the Larchmont area and hope to be for decades to come,” Melissa Farwell, Director of Coordination & Development for Raw Inspirations, the manager of the Larchmont Farmers market told the Buzz yesterday. “We have been working closely with the [City Council] office to ensure that and ensure the Farmers Market is in a location that works for the Farmers Market as well as the community.”
Farwell told us that she and her staff are trying to secure permission from businesses on the 300 block of North Larchmont Blvd. (just north of Beverly Blvd.) to move the market there, either temporarily or permanently. According to Mark Pampanin, Press Secretary for CD4 Councilmember David Ryu, Fisher has been working with Farwell for several months to explore all possible locations for the market.
According to Pampanin, the space issues with the Farmers Market pre-date the playground. He told the Buzz that “all options are on the table” and that CD4 staff are working with the market to find a solution that is sustainable, keeps the market on Larchmont, and allows it to thrive for years to come.
“The reality is that the market has grown over the 18 years, and while we have loved our current location, we also would like the opportunity to find a new home where we have a bit more room to accommodate the demand of the community and we have been working to find a larger space for several years,” explained Farwell. Seating, a space for entertainment, and children’s activities could be added, as well as more space for current vendors.
“Many of our farmers and vendors have been with the market for the full 18 years,” said Farwell, adding “we don’t want to lose anyone.”
Farwell was pleased to hear of the groundswell of support for the market building since Windsor Square resident Gary Gilbert spoke at the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council meeting last week and asked neighbors to contact Councilmember Ryu to ask the city to hold off construction of the playground until the “market issue is resolved to the satisfaction of the community.”
“It is clear there is significant community support for the market to remain where it is and, if it’s true, that the market’s impetus for moving is the arrival of this playground, which had minimal, if any public outreach to approve it in the first place. It makes sense for David Ryu to listen to the community before he allows construction to begin,” Gilbert told the Buzz.
Gilbert also told the Buzz that his outreach to the community has generated 100 letters to Councilmember Ryu’s office expressing support for the market and asking him to hold off on construction until the issue can be vetted in a public forum. Gilbert said he has asked the Land Use Committee of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council to put the issue on the agenda for it next meeting on Tuesday, February 24.
While Farwell assured the Buzz they have every intention of continuing to operate the Larchmont market, there’s no doubt it will be different once the playground construction begins. At the very least, she said, there are questions about how the market will operate during construction, which is expected to last five months. Will all the vendors be permitted to stay or would some have to leave temporarily?
Brenda Ayon of Gama Farms, who sells organic eggs at the market, is one of the farmers who may have to leave, since her booth is in the space designated for the playground. Ayon told us the market managers would let her know what’s going on by March 1st.
Maria Larios, of Underwood Farms, said she heard the same thing, but not directly. Larios said she hopes the market doesn’t have to move, though it would be nice to have a bit more space. She said thinks the current small size actually makes it easy for customers to go around and around as they shop.
Chui Salas, an organic farmer, told the Buzz, however, that he could use more space. He grows more than 200 varieties of vegetables, but can only bring a small portion of his crops to the market. On the other hand, Penny Nicholas, from Nicholas Organic Farms, told us she’s worried that a larger market could bring in new competitors, making it harder for the current farmers. Nicholas, who prides herself on being one of only a few organic farmers at the market, says her customers have told her they want to keep the market the same as it is now.
Also, many of the brick and mortar businesses on Larchmont would like to see the market stay where it is. Several businesses told the Buzz that they really depend on the extra foot traffic generated by the market, which was the primary reason the Larchmont Boulevard Association brought the market to the street 18 years ago.
Bert Deixler, owner of Chevalier’s, the city’s oldest independent bookstore, said he is worried that moving the market north of Beverly could reduce foot traffic south of Beverly, and that could profoundly affect his business.
Louis Eafalla, owner of Village Heights, wrote a letter to Councilmember Ryu saying, “It would be a DEVASTATING LOSS to all of us who count on the added traffic and business that it brings in. Brick and Mortar business gets tougher every year. To even consider removing something that generates traffic and dollars to the street would be a misstep, to put it mildly.”
But whether the market has to move, either temporarily or permanently, Farwell wants to assure the community that it has no intention of leaving altogether. “We have seen your children grow up, we’ve shared in celebrations like weddings, and cried with you in hardships as well. We have enjoyed every conversation, recipe shared, and being your neighbor every Sunday. We are a part of the fabric of the community and there is no intention of us leaving. The details are still being worked out at this time and it is our intention to share those details as soon as they are worked out. We greatly appreciate your support, but please do not worry, we will not be leaving the Larchmont area!”