CARLSBAD — After months of grumbling to city officials, business owners had the opportunity to air their grievances about the Carlsbad farmers’ market at the Jan. 28 City Council meeting.
No one voiced objection to the bright strawberries, freshly baked breads, or seasonal flowers that are a staple sight at the Wednesday event. Instead, the source of businesses’ complaints was the market’s new location on State Street.
“That Wednesday market closes my business from about 1 to 5 p.m.,” said Phil Milloy, who owns nine shops along the corner of State Street and Carlsbad Village Drive.
The farmers’ market has operated in the downtown Village area for nearly 10 years. To attract more business, council approved for the market to move from a parking lot off of Roosevelt Street to State Street between Carlsbad Village Drive and Grand Avenue in June 2013.
In its new spot, the farmers’ market has increased its number of vendors, visibility, and, most importantly, customers. The net income of the market has increased from $310 to $878 since the move, according to city staff.
But some nearby business owners have claimed that the market has negatively impacted their sales and customers because of the new location.
“It’s overwhelming the number of complaints I received,” Council member Farrah Douglas said.
She said that since the change, shop and restaurant owners have contacted her about issues with parking, vehicle towing and reduced sales issues caused by the market.
In December, a consultant hired by the city conducted a survey of surrounding business owners and managers to gauge the full impact of the market.
Twenty-eight percent of the 50 business owners and managers surveyed indicated that they have an unfavorable opinion of the new location. Twenty-two percent of them stated that their business saw a decrease in sales when the farmers’ market was held.
Some speakers at the meeting said that parking is hard to find and the city is towing too many cars to clear State Street for the market each week. Others noted that market attendees will use businesses’ restrooms without buying anything from that shop.
Though a number of commenters at the meeting disagreed, some were praising the market’s new location for the vitality it has brought to the market and the Village as a whole.
Christine Davis pointed out that the farmers’ market has brought in more people to her store than any of her advertising endeavors.
“I have more people in my store, and I didn’t have to pay a penny to get them there,” she said.
“It has a very positive effect on our bottom line,” stated Richard Zoll, who owns three businesses in the Village.
Douglas said that in spite of the positive influence the market has had on some businesses, she could not ignore those that were being hurt by the weekly event.
“You cannot dismiss 22 percent of people,” she said. “Those shop owners need help.”
But the other council members disagreed, saying that there will never be a market location that makes 100 percent of customers, vendors and businesses completely satisfied.
“It doesn’t matter what we decide. We are always going to have people who are unhappy,” said council member Keith Blackburn.
Rather than hosting a public hearing to modify or revoke the farmers’ market’s permit, or directing staff to monitor the market and later report back to council, the members voted three-to-one in favor of accepting staff’s report about the market and taking no action. Douglas provided the opposing vote.
Mayor Matt Hall recused himself from the matter since he and his wife own property near the farmers’ market.
Mayor pro tem Mark Packard said he was confident that even without official direction from the council, city staff would continue to work with business owners to remedy issues with the market’s location.
The farmers’ market’s permit will expire June 2015 and will be up for council review at that time.