If there was a common reaction among the Third Avenue merchants Thursday afternoon, May 14, it was one of frustration as to why the Oakdale Tourism and Visitors Bureau moved the weekly farmers market from the downtown area to the Oakdale Community Center Plaza.
This year the OTVB made the decision to host the farmers market on both North Third Avenue and to also utilize the plaza area of the Gene Bianchi Community Center on the opposite side of F Street off South Second. However, after the first week of the market, officials made the decision to move it all to the plaza area.
OTVB Administrator Pam Dumas said the original decision to split the locations was to take advantage of the city’s plaza for craft and food vendors, art and music acts with the farmers selling their fruits and vegetables downtown on North Third.
“After the first week we got complaints from those paying for the booths demanding it all be together,” said Dumas. “The decision to have the fruit and vegetable vendors over on Third Avenue did not work out well.”
Dumas said OTVB made the choice to have the produce sellers join the rest of the vendors on South Second Avenue off G Street adjacent to the Plaza starting on May 13.
“I thought the purpose of something like a farmers market was to build up your downtown area,” said Tammy Golding of London Fox “Moving it there isn’t building up your small businesses at all.”
Stores along North Third Avenue reported a minimum amount of traffic compared to past years when the whole market was in front of their stores. Many questioned the worth of staying open later.
“We’re trying to figure out what they’re doing,” said Russell Olivera of Oakdale in Wonderland, who is organizing a petition to present to the city and OTVB. “They asked us to stay open later and now we feel cheated after this move.”
“Wednesday nights isn’t going to make or break us,” said Golding, “but those are the customers that would notice us and then come back for the holidays or for special presents.”
Nicole Trunnell at Remember When Again said she was furious over the move which she only heard on Monday was going to occur.
“All your stores are here, not over there,” Trunnell said. “This (move) doesn’t help downtown at all.”
Cindy Baca of Treasure Hunt said she had planned to stay open late but ended up closing after an hour due to the lack of pedestrian traffic.
Baca was also upset at the way the decision to move had been made without input from merchants and the notification to her coming on Tuesday.
“They told us ‘that’s the way it is,’ and seemed rude,” Baca said. “For a farmers market to be moved from downtown is ridiculous.”
Sherry Staal of Pin Ups Salon agreed, stating she was very irritated that merchants weren’t taken into consideration about the move.
“This doesn’t generate business for Oakdale that’s for sure,” Staal said. “No one is going to want to cross that (East F) street, it’s too busy.”
Staal’s trepidation about the traffic on East F Street was echoed by several of the merchants who stated that in addition to crossing the street, in a town that has a high percentage of pedestrian accidents, the traffic back-up on the Highway 108 thoroughfare was heavy.
“It just sucks that they did this,” said Lori Vierra of Lori’s Framing and Fine Art. “It now takes away from downtown. We had music and vendors that brought people here which also helped sales and the tax base.”
Paul Rivera, who is on the verge of opening an upscale wine bar on North Third Avenue, said one of the reasons he selected his location in downtown Oakdale was because of the planned downtown activities. He estimated up to 20 percent of his business would be generated with the Farmers Market during spring and summer evenings.
“This is where your tax is generated; it’s the heart of the city.” Rivera said. “I know I’m new, but I was counting on the farmers market. All merchants here had talked to me about it before moving in.”
Steve Medlen, owner of Medlen’s House of Beef said he was disappointed and also questioned the loss of city sales tax revenue being taken away with the move.
“Have we lost sight of our budget through tax revenues?” Medlen asked. “People from outside the city come here for what’s downtown, not at a community center.”
Medlen also questioned some public safety aspects with the move including that there were four parking lots associated with the downtown area and the only parking lot for the community center was partially filled by the vendors.
“I’ll continue to support Oakdale, the farmers market, and the Third Avenue merchants,” Medlen said. “I do disagree with this move though.
“This type of event is designed to showcase the merchants that participate and surrounding areas with a positive economic impact,” said Oakdale Chamber of Commerce CEO Mary Guardiola. “The Chamber has received some phone calls regarding the new location and the local businesses not included this year having a negative financial impact on them so far this season.”
Guardiola pointed out that the chamber does not organize the event, but does support the “concept” put on by OTVB and looks forward to the sales picking up.
When advised of the unhappy merchants, Dumas stated her main concern was the vendors over the merchants.
“They were not happy, and not making any money over on Third since the majority of the people were over at the plaza,” Dumas said. “Speaking to the produce vendors last night, they seemed much happier.”
The OTVB still plans on some minor “tweaks” to be made in coming weeks.
“I truly believe the plaza and South Second Avenue is the best place for the market,” Dumas said.
“Who in basic business wouldn’t want something like this associated near their stores,” Olivera said. “Don’t mess with it, it wasn’t broken.”
Another merchant, who asked not to be identified, feels changes would be coming once the merchants spoke up.
“Remember, this is the same group that tried to push ‘Pioneer Perfect’ on us,” he said.