Vendors at the Chestertown Farmer’s Market set up for business just prior to opening hours on a recent Wednesday. The market’s success has prompted some criticism, but town leaders and business owners were quick this week to defend the operation.
Recent criticisms of the Chestertown Farmers’ Market — claims it was disruptive to the town municipal center and incompatible with the new Veterans Plaza — were countered this week by town officials and market participants.
Town of Chester Zoning Administrator Walt Tennyson submitted a letter Aug. 14 to the town board identifying “recurring problems” with the market, including vendors’ trucks parking on the lawn, a “clutter” of cars parking on the center’s driveways or on Main St., causing an “extremely dangerous” traffic situation. Tennyson suggested in the letter that the market be moved to the town’s Dynamite Hill Recreation area.
At the Chester town board meeting that same day, Mary Jane Dower, one of the market’s organizers — and leader of the Chester’s downtown revitalization committee — refuted the allegations and defended the market, point by point.
Her points received hearty applause from the audience. Also, the conduct of the market was praised by the board.
Tennyson said in his letter that vendors trucks were parked on the sod that was just planted as part of the Veterans’ Memorial Plaza project. Dower countered that no vendors had parked on the sod, but on old grass that hadn’t been watered regularly and was dead. She said that those vendors who needed ready access to their inventory were parked in appropriate places where they wouldn’t hurt the lawn.
Referring to a complaint by Tennyson that one market attendee picked town flowers and that a child or two had climbed on a monument, she said the incidents weren’t necessarily problems caused by the market, but were simply inappropriate behavior.
She noted that the traffic “problems” were actually an indication of a positive trend.
She said it was the goal of town leaders to boost traffic into downtown Chestertown to patronize local businesses and boost the economy — and eventually fill up the empty storefronts with viable businesses.
The market has been bringing in an average of 500 or so people each Wednesday into town, which is in line with that objective, she said. She also noted that the specific parking problems were being dealt with by volunteers as they occurred.
At the meeting, Florence Converse — a supervisor at Grand Union — said the extra traffic in town during the market was boosting the store’s revenue by about $1,000 per hour. it was reported that Grand Union has added staff on Wednesdays to handle the increase in business.
Later, Hemlock Ledge Restaurant owner Steve Caunter said he recently decided to offer lunch, after seeing the flood of traffic through town mid-day on Wednesdays.
“The farmers’ market has been incredible — it’s a real boost for the town,” he said. “We’re now doing really well on Wednesdays.”
At the meeting, Dower noted that if the market were moved to Dynamite Hill, it would defeat its purpose, with patrons continuing to bypass downtown.
Don Butler of the Tri-Lakes Business Alliance, an action-oriented group seeking to boost commerce, praised the market’s influence on the local economy.
“It’s the greatest thing that’s hit Chestertown in a long time,” he said. “It’s the talk of the town.”
Referring to complaint from a Warrensburg resident — penned in a letter — that it was “disrespectful” to veterans to have the market nearby, a woman in the audience said the veterans’ memorials get far more people appreciating them with the market being adjacent.
“The memorials get a lot more exposure — people from the market go over and examine the monuments, and the benches give them places to sit and reflect,” she said.
After several town board members voiced kudos for the market, Chester Supervisor Fred Monroe took his turn.
“The market has been very successful, and very good for the town,” he said. We’re glad all the volunteers invested so much time into the market.”