Montclair’s South Park St. Farmers Market is a failure.
Montclair’s Farmers Market on South Park St. opened for its 18-week 2016 season on Tuesday, June 7 from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. The market opened to a chorus of negative reactions from the farmers and merchants alike.
According to Scott Kennedy, Co-Owner of Studio042,
“The BID has lost its focus on its core mission to support its existing merchants and property owners. The very same people who already pay the BID $500,000 in taxes for support. Locating the Farmers Market on South Park St. is a disaster and negatively impacts the retail and professional tenants there. Either shut it down altogether or move it to a vacant lot. Montclair does not need a second Farmers Market much less a mid-week market.”
The Montclair Center Corporation, also known as the BID, is the Public Agency behind the South Park St. Farmers Market. The BID is the organizer, marketer and host along with the newly hired Market Manager, Montclair Township Arborist Steve Schuckman. The Montclair Center Corporation, the BID, was created in 2002 by the Township of Montclair at the same time the township created the Business Improvement District. The BID is funded by a Special Assessment Tax on Property owners and their tenants. That funding now exceeds $500,000 per year.
The BID was set up and funded with the mandate to protect, promote and support the property owners and their professional and retail tenants and guests.
This is the second year the BID is attempting to host a Farmers Market on South Park St. In 2015, the BID closed the entirety of South Park St. every Tuesday for, at times, an anemic group of just two farmers. This shut down an entire block to all traffic and eliminated nearly 20 parking spaces every Tuesday for 18 weeks.
Most of the merchants cried foul and did so repeatedly, but the BID turned a deaf ear. The Previous BID Executive Director, Luther Flurry, who earned in excess of $100,000 reportedly either didn’t respond or offered little when he did respond. This year the newly hired BID Executive Director, Israel Cronk, who worked as the General Manager of Bangz Salon and Wellness Spa in Montclair, seems to have taken a similar stance in dealing with the affected merchants.
When asked why the BID thinks the area needs a Farmers Market, Cronk stated, “We just want to bring some vitality to the week. Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be tougher weekdays so we want to give back to the community by offering the market on Tuesdays.”
Clearly there is a disconnect between what the BID’s Executive Director thinks the area needs on Tuesdays and what the retail and professional tenants know they need. The BID, in addition to spending public funds on hiring a Market Manager, also saw fit to use BID staff while on the clock to assist the farmers in setting up and taking down their tents on South Park St.
Even before the BID opened the Farmers Market on Tuesday there was some confusion as to how the market would be permitted to operate on a busy downtown street this year as compared to last season’s complete shutdown of both lanes of traffic. While the BID had been telling the affected merchants the street would remain open to traffic, this season the farmers were confined to a narrow 9’ x 18’ parking space.
Sharron Miller, the Executive Director of the Sharron Miller Academy of Performing Arts (SMAPA), said,
“[This season], they are changing the setup to be on our side of the street. Traffic will not be impacted nor will the street be closed. The setup will be with pedestrians on the sidewalk and the vendors facing our building and located within the parking spaces. We’ll see if this is any better. They actually did not reach out to me, I asked the guys on the street. That’s how I found out.”
All the while the Montclair Police Department Traffic Bureau planned to shut down the entirety of the street for the safety of the shoppers, the farmers and the motorists alike. On the morning the market opened someone with the BID or the farmers themselves overrode the Montclair Police Department and opened the street up to traffic thereby creating a dangerous area with farmers, shoppers and vehicular traffic all competing for space on the narrow roadway.
Lt. Stephanie Egnezzo, Traffic Bureau Commander, said,
“For some reason there was a miscommunication with the BID for [Tuesday’s] set up – I already met with them … to address it and it will be set up differently going forward. If they set up on South Park St., then yes the street will be blocked off.”
Amanda from bluemercury when asked about the safety of the market being held on an active busy roadway said, “You might as well block off the whole street, now there is a greater risk of hitting somebody.”
Xavier, Manager at Lacrosse Unlimited, when asked about the road being left open added, “That makes it dangerous, cars fly down this road.”
While Sabrina from Madeline offered, “I think it would be better if they blocked the whole street off.”
Why the BID is hosting a Farmers Market that is taking up 10 parking spaces in a city that is starved for available on-street parking is a mystery. None of the merchants we spoke with appreciate the loss of parking, the loss of foot traffic and the general confusion the market brings to the South Park St. area.
Sharron Miller said, “The loss of parking always has a negative impact. There is no benefit to our business at all.” Miller had previously stated, “It is my personal observation that the number of patrons does not warrant the disruption of an entire street every week for 4.5 months, but that’s just my personal opinion.”
Xavier added, “There is terrible parking. I’ve worked here for two years now, and every time the Farmers Market rolls around it does affect our business. Many people who come here aren’t local. When they can’t find parking, they’ll say I’ll come another time then another time doesn’t come around.”
Amanda, when asked about the loss of 10 parking spaces added, “This is the hub of downtown Montclair, the parking is already a nightmare.”
Paul Zimmerman, Owner of Zimmerman Realty which owns buildings on Park St. said,
“It makes no sense to shut down Park St. or take over parking meters for a Farmers Market on Park St. They pay no rent, no taxes or CAM charges depriving the tenants and property owners who do pay these expenses the use of Park St. and the parking meters. The Farmers Market has no business being on Park St.”
Doyle Hyett, co-founder of HyettPalma, Inc., purports to be the only national consulting firm specializing in the economic enhancement of downtown’s and older commercial districts. HyettPalma has developed economic enhancement strategies for nearly 1,000 downtowns nationwide – ranging from Seward, Alaska, to West Palm Beach, Fla.
When asked about the value of a parking space per hour to a retail tenant, Hyett said, “30 years ago it was about $300/hour. That number, however, can vary significantly based on the health of the retail area. For example, if on-street spaces are worth $500 per day in Montclair, they could likely be worth $5,000 per day on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills or $10,000 per day in Aspen.”
Hyett is concerned about employees taking up valuable and limited parking spaces thereby depriving shoppers of spaces. Hosting a Farmers Market in the most valuable parking spaces is tantamount to the same effects on the merchants.
“They are literally ‘stealing’ money from the cash registers of downtown businesses. No one has ever disputed this fact,” said Hyett.
The merchants and business on South Park St., who are the ones most negatively affected by the BID’s unilateral decision to close the areas parking and host the Farmers Market, are being hit twice. The merchants on the west side of Church St. that have lost their sales for the day collectively are paying $17,407.67 of the BIDS $500,000 annual appropriation from the Township of Montclair through their higher rents. When they close South Park St. completely, that number easily doubles. Most of the commercial tenants on South Park St. are locked into multi-year leases at $40 per square foot or better.
Several of the merchants independently suggested the BID move the Farmers Market around the corner into the vacant parking lot on Church St. across from Starbucks. The Montclair Dispatch did reach out to Dave Faeder, Managing Partner of Fountain Square Properties. Faeder was asked regarding the animosity from the affected merchants to the Farmers Market had the BID reached out to him about the possibility of moving the market into his vacant lot. Faeder said,
“The BID had not asked specifically about the use of the lot for the Farmers Market even though he had recent meetings with the BID on other issues. I am not opposed to the idea and would reach out to the BID.”
The BID also has other alternative locations that could comfortably host a Farmers Market.
- The vacant Church St. lot
- The large Lackawanna shopping center lot
- The vacant lot located on Bloomfield Ave. in the fourth ward at 130-136 Bloomfield Ave.
- The municipal parking lot on South Fullerton at the end of The Crescent St.
Unless the New Executive Director of the BID can find a way to compensate the affected merchants and professional tenants for the losses sustained due to the taking of the on-street parking and closures of the streets then, as Kennedy said, “Either shut it down or move it to a vacant lot.”
Israel Cronk did not respond to email requests for additional information and comments prior to publication.
The Montclair Dispatch was assisted in writing this article with the help of Eve Mahaney, Gabe Friedin, and Theadora Lecour.
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Editor’s Note 2-10-2017: A change to the third sentence, in the fourth paragraph has been made to reflect that Mr. Cronk was not concurrently employed by Bangs and the BID.