Fight brews over market relocation
Norwood’s longtime farmers market will be moved next year from a parking lot behind the Apollo Function Facility on Washington Street to the Town Common, part of a master plan to help revitalize the downtown area.
But vendors who sell produce at the 17-year-old market are not happy with the decision to move, which they say came as a surprise.
The initiative is pushed by the Downtown Steering Committee, as part of its overall vision for the town center. A new nonprofit group, the Friends of Norwood Center, will hire a part-time downtown manager to fill empty storefronts and lure in more foot traffic to the struggling shopping area.
“The idea is to give activity and vibrancy to the center of town,’’ said selectmen chairman Mike Lyons, who is also a member of the steering committee. “When you bring people in, they will see the stores and remember to patronize them.’’
The five-member Board of Selectmen voted, 3 to 2, late last month to relocate the weekly farmers market and form a subcommittee to look into accommodating different or varied vendors to make it more of a destination. “In all that time, the market hasn’t grown at all, and a handful of farmers are getting enormous benefits,’’ Lyons said.
But market manager Shirley Robbins of Paradise Hill Farm in Westport, who has been with the Norwood market since the beginning, said farmers weren’t informed of the plan or the vote. Otherwise, she said, they would have attended the meeting to plead their case.
“Basically, they slid it through,’’ she said. “I think it was a sleazy move.’’
Robbins said the plan calls for moving the market to a location with no parking, which will be a hardship not only to the vendors who truck in their wares but also to customers who count on easy access to the stalls.
Lyons said he understands farmers are upset with the move but the vote did not take place in a vacuum, or come out of the blue.
“We talk about this every year,’’ he said. “As it is, it isn’t a market, it’s a glorified farm stand with unlimited parking that does zero for Norwood.’’
Ed Silvia, a farmer with fields in Dighton and Somerset, said the Norwood market is small, compared with those in other towns, with three farmers and two vendors who sell bread and fish. But it still has some 500 dedicated patrons, many of whom are senior citizens, he said.
The market was originally run by the state Federation of Farmers Markets before Robbins, Silvia, and the others took it over. It was first located on Central Street next to the common, but the town moved it to its current location when area business owners complained about losing parking.
So what has changed?
Robbins and Silvia said parking is still scarce, and working in the common means backing up 17-foot box trucks onto its walkways and lugging boxes of fruits and vegetables to display areas.
“We’re not selling balloons here,’’ Silvia said. “They are heavy.’’
Customers won’t like toting purchases a block and a half to the nearest parking area, Robbins said: “Are you going to carry a dozen ears of corn and a couple of watermelons with a couple of kids in tow?’’
Silvia said town officials told them the market can always be moved back to the function facility parking lot if it doesn’t work out. But the farmers are urging their customers to tell selectmen to leave things alone.
If they are unsuccessful, Robbins said, it’s the end of the line for her. “I’m going to stay through this year, but if they move I’m not going,’’ she said. “I’m not backing down, though. I’m not leaving without a fight.’’
Silvia said he is exasperated with the idea of a more entertaining market with crafters and face-painters and other such offerings. He said the town doesn’t understand the market at all. “We’re not peddlers, and we have to prepare for the market starting in February,’’ he said.
Selectwoman Helen Abdallah Donohue said she voted against the move, but not because she agrees with the market’s management. She said it’s quite the opposite.
“We have spent the past year making the Town Common pretty, and if we were going to put pushcarts there, that would be fine with me,’’ she said. “But why are we making it a truck stop?’’
“To me, the common is a special place,’’ Donohue said. “It was never intended to have vehicles.’’
As for the farmers, she said they have benefited from town resources for years yet have never contributed to a local cause or found some other way to offer payback.
“And they should,’’ she said. “They take business away from the local merchants.’’
With 258 farmers markets statewide, Silvia said he is not worried about finding another venue to fill his Tuesdays. But he said he feels sorry for the customers with whom he has built an almost two-decades-long relationship.
“I’ve watched their kids grow up, and they are like family to me,’’ he said. “I know the selectmen don’t see me as part of the community, but after 17 years I feel like I am.’’
The Norwood Farmers Market is open on Tuesdays from 1 to 6 p.m. until Oct. 25.
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at email@example.com.