Due to high expenses and historically poor attendance in September, the Downtown Lodi Farmers Market is going to be shorter this year. The annual market is being reduced to 13 weeks and will not stretch into September, the Downtown Lodi Business Partnership board of directors unanimously voted Monday.
“It’s unfortunate for the community, but it makes sense when looking at it like a financial and business decision,” said Jaime Watts, executive director of the DLBP.
The market typically runs from June to September, but partnership directors said the nonprofit organization has operated at a loss during the final month for the last five years. Not only are school sessions resuming, but the Grape Festival and Labor Day weekend also reduce the number of customers at the market in September, said Watts. Vendors and farmers typically enjoy fewer sales during the final month, and about a one-third of them don’t participate during that time, she said. Darkness setting in earlier in the day also factors into lower attendance, directors said.
The man who oversees the market’s produce supply said he is disappointed with the decision but understands the reasons behind it.
“I know I’m going to get flack from growers who still have crops at that point (in September),” said Jon Tecklenburg, farmers’ representative for the Downtown Lodi Farmers Market. “But the head count isn’t there and then the non-ag vendors start leaving because they aren’t selling as much.”
He said crops like peppers, pears and table grapes are commodities typically still available in at the market in September. However, the overall supply of produce at the market does traditionally dwindle later in the year, he said.
Starting the market earlier in the day in September to mitigate for earlier nightfall is not an option because the street closures necessary to operate the event would likely interfere with Downtown businesses, Watts said.
“We’re here to support business, not interfere with them,” she said.
The costs of running the market
Due to permitting requirements from the city and county, as well as the cost of insurance and closing down streets, the farmers’ market costs about $2,500 a week to run.
Even though the partnership lost money while continuing to host the market during September in previous years, the directors said reduced revenue plays too big a role in 2011. The partnership is expecting assessments, a significant portion of its budget, to be down this year. Assessments come from individual businesses in the partnership and vary depending on the type of operation and its number of employees. The partnership’s annual operating budget is between $150,000 and $175,000, and $40,000 of it came from assessments in 2010, Watts said.
Assessments could be between $30,000 and $35,000 in 2011, said Nancy Byer-Hauan, DLBP board president.
There are several reasons for the decline. Many storefronts remain vacant around Downtown Lodi and don’t have dues-paying merchants inside. Several Downtown businesses have also cut staff over the last 18 months and pay less in assessments as a result, Watts said. Also, new businesses aren’t required to pay dues for the first year. Those leaving Downtown are exempt as well.
To help make up some of the money, the partnership is working to obtain more sponsorships. The board approved a motion to contract with a commission-based worker who would attempt to secure sponsorships. Since the worker would be paid on commission and wouldn’t earn unless they produced results, it’s a deal that benefits the DLBP, Watts said.
Although a commission-only employee could be working for the partnership in the coming weeks and months, Watts said September markets would still not happen because contracts need to be finalized with this year’s vendors.
While the market will be several weeks shorter this year, Watts said the partnership will consider bringing September sessions back in 2012.
“Nothing is set in stone for next year,” she said.
Directors Michael Warren and Gregg Lewis were absent from Monday’s session.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at firstname.lastname@example.org.