Farmers market clashes with retail
Businesses express concerns about advantages for street vendors
August 24, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Some Steamboat Springs business owners aren’t thrilled with the setup of the local farmers market.
The Saturday market, on Sixth Street between Lincoln Avenue and Oak Street, continues through next weekend. It includes vendors who sell food, crafts, hats, art and clothing, among other wares.
But about 15 business owners recently signed a letter sent to the board of Mainstreet Steamboat Springs, saying they thought the market gave vendors with nonperishable wares an advantage over shops, Mainstreet Manager Tracy Barnett said.
“They want it to be a total farmers market, not having crafts as well,” she said. “Their issue, although they don’t say it’s competition, is that vendors don’t pay property tax and don’t have to maintain sidewalks, so it creates unfair competition, unfair market practices.”
Mainstreet started the market in 2005 to create vibrancy and attract people downtown, Barnett said. It’s challenging to include only food because of Northwest Colorado’s short growing season. Mainstreet aimed to have 60 percent food and 40 percent craft and other vendors, she said, but the mix has been closer to 50/50.
Despite the grievances, retailers with concerns were often not willing to discuss them publicly. Several did not return calls seeking comment.
One business owner chose her words carefully. Peta Elmes, who runs Cowgirls and Angels near Fourth Street and Lincoln Avenue, said she had no problem with people selling food and knickknacks at the market. She said Mainstreet should be clearer about the mission, however.
Many of the vendors at the market make their own wares, but some sell items made elsewhere. The market organizers should clarify who can participate, Elmes said. They also should be aware of sellers who are competing with businesses in the small Steamboat market, she said.
“I just think there should be better communication with the city and the farmers market and stores,” Elmes said. “Let’s all work together to make Saturdays better for everybody. That’s the objective: make it a win-win.”
Jan Lomas, who owns the Artisans Market of Steamboat near Sixth Street and Lincoln Avenue, said she was frustrated that businesses would see anything negative in the farmers market.
Lomas opens early and has increased staffing to handle the traffic from the market, she said. Her business Saturday mornings has doubled, she said.
The market “opens at 8, so I started opening at 9,” Lomas said. “It used to be I could open at 11 and not be busy. People follow us in when we open the door. It’s a lot of locals, too; it’s not just tourists.”
Cindy LaDue, who sells handmade baby items and other crafts at the market, said the market provided space for vendors who can’t compete with shops downtown.
“We need this,” LaDue said. “It brings out people who are going to eat and shop downtown. It’s not a negative in any way.”
LaDue, who also sells items at the Hayden Marketplace under her Red Clay brand, said Steamboat should consider adding an indoor wintertime market a couple of times a week.
The Mainstreet board plans to discuss the market at its Sept. 9 meeting. Barnett said she was preparing for that talk.
“I’m trying to research those markets that are similar in the mountains, that can’t raise their own produce, what they have,” she said. “Other than the Edwards market, which is over near Vail, they all have some element of craft involved.”
Lomas said locals she had spoken with liked what the market provided to the community.
“It gives people a reason to stop and actually get out of their cars instead of going on to the golf course,” Lomas said.