Every summer Saturday, crowds pack City Hall Park to shop for juicy cuts of meat, fresh hummus and baby artichokes at the Burlington Farmers Market. When festivals coincide with the occasion, the grassy square fairly teems with bodies.
But, despite appearances, Market Manager Chris Wagner attests that nearby haps actually decrease sales. “There are tons of people, but they’re mostly tourists,” he explains. “They’re not buying tomatoes and pork chops, because they’re staying in hotels.” On those festive weekends, Wagner suspects, locals eager to avoid parking snafus and crowds simply stay home.
Wagner notes that prepared food vendors are an exception to the rule: “They can be up by about 25 percent,” he guesses. At the same time, the profits of “agricultural vendors” drop by about 50 percent. For many, the 26-week summer market represents most of their yearly income, so a significant decrease in weekly sales has real impact.
The solution? Wagner thinks that expanding the market into other areas of City Hall Park would make it a bigger draw and dramatically increase weekly revenue. “We had to turn down 40 or 50 vendors this year because we didn’t have the space,” he notes. “We wish we could take over the other beautiful grassy part that ends up being an impromptu drum circle.” Another plus: If the market spanned the entire park, it might encourage groups planning festivals to hold them on different days. “People are latching onto the success of the market and planning a festival for Saturday to draw the crowd away from the market, when it could have been held on a Sunday,” Wagner suggests.
So far, Wagner says, the Burlington Parks & Rec department hasn’t granted the market any more space. “I think they make more money off the other festivals,” he says.
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