Thursday, December 5, 2013
By GILLIAN GRAHAM Staff Writer
David Orbeton is convinced that a short move will go a long way toward growing the South Portland Farmers' Market into one of Maine's more successful markets.
A view of the South Portland Farmers' Market at Thomas Knight Park last summer.
2011 Press Herald file/Gordon Chibroski
The South Portland resident, who owns the Wicked Sharp knife sharpening business, said he and other vendors had some success when the market began last summer in Thomas Knight Park, but sales dwindled as the season went on.
Orbeton and Caitlin Jordan, the market's manager, said turnout and sales were less than stellar largely because the waterfront park on Waterman Drive lacks visibility. "It was really remotely located in the city. You need to have traffic going by to catch people's attention," Orbeton said.
On Monday night, the City Council could end a long and contentious discussion about the future of the market.
The council is expected to vote on a plan to move the market to a spot on Hinckley Drive, adjacent to Mill Creek Park, and close part of the street from 2 to 8 p.m. every Thursday, said City Manager James Gailey. Vendors hope the move will give them more visibility and attract more customers and vendors.
If the council approves the plan, the Planning Board on Tuesday will consider granting a special exemption for outdoor sales and displays. That would allow the market to open for the season with 19 vendors as soon as next week, Jordan said.
Earlier plans called for moving vendors off the cobblestone sidewalks at Thomas Knight Park and onto Waterman Drive, and adding a sign at Broadway and Waterman Drive to draw attention to the market.
Last week, Hannaford's Mill Creek supermarket offered to hold the farmers market in its parking lot. Vendors quickly rejected the offer. Jordan said vendors had voted unanimously in favor of moving to Hinckley Drive.
"If Hinckley Drive wasn't an option, Hannaford definitely would have been the choice," she said.
Hannaford spokesman Michael Norton said the company made the offer because it has had success with similar arrangements in other areas. The offer is consistent with the company's support of local farmers and would have eased concerns about pedestrians' safety by moving the market off a busy street, he said.
City Councilor Jerry Jalbert first raised the idea of moving the market closer to Mill Creek Park after talking briefly with Jordan in March.
"The farmers are truly focused on moving to that location because it's much better exposure. Unfortunately, with Thomas Knight Park, I'd say most people in South Portland don't know where that is," he said. "To me, there's no question here. The motive is simple: The farmers market isn't successful unless the farmers are successful."
Jalbert said vendors are "jumping for joy" at the thought of the move because more than half of them lost money last year. He said it "would have been a shame" to see the market fail because of its location.
Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis, who led the effort last year to establish the market, isn't convinced that the move is the best option. She supported moving the market onto Waterman Drive and adding a 4-foot by 8-foot sign on Broadway. She said councilors must consider the impact of the move on traffic and residents.
"Hinckley Drive is a major cross street," she said. "It's used every minute of the day."
Gailey said he vetted the Hinckley Park location with the city's staff and is not as concerned about safety issues because the road would be blocked with vendors' vans and tents. A bus stop on Hinckley Drive would be moved to Thomas Street during market hours.
"We feel as though the proposal is acceptable and we're willing to move forward with it," Gailey said.
Orbeton, the knife sharpener, said he's hopeful that the council will support moving the market to an "exceptional" location near Mill Creek Park.
"It's centrally located, there's room to expand it in the future, it's aesthetically pleasing alongside the park," he said. "I feel like business will be up, but we'll have to start all over again with the publicity so people know we're back."
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: