VENICE — Sarasota County commissioners agreed more produce and food vendors are needed at Englewood’s farmer markets.
Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to require farmer markets to keep the ratio of their vendors to 75 percent produce and other food vendors. That means only 25 percent of the vendors can sell arts and crafts, jewelry, health and health services, and other non-food vendors. Market managers had been allowed a 50-50 split between the type of vendors to whom they rented space.
The various farmer markets, large and small, attract hundreds, if not thousands, of people to West Dearborn Street on Thursday mornings during the winter season from October to May. Originally, the markets were limited to a 75-25 percent split, but that was changed to the 50-50 split two years ago. Last season, Dearborn brick-and-mortar business owners felt their bottom lines were being hurt by the 50-50 split of market vendors.
Englewood Community Redevelopment Agency manager Debbie Marks told commissioners market managers, Olde Englewood Village Association members and other business owners met to come up with a solution. The markets were becoming more of flea market venues than farmer markets, Marks suggested.
“Market managers said they could deal with the 75-25 split,” Marks said, acknowledging commissioners had been contacted by market vendors who were upset over changes to the ratio. “The markets opened in October and they are compliant with the 75-25 split.”
The nonprofit Englewood Farmer’s Market was the first in Englewood, opening eight years ago at the Pioneer Plaza on the 300 block of West Dearborn. Joyce Colmar opened her for-profit Dearborn Street Market across the street. Other smaller markets began sprouting up along and around West Dearborn on Thursdays.
OEVA president Taylor Meals described the situation as being “out of control” with the smaller markets. Market vendors could rent space for $25 or $35 a week while business owners have to pay employees, property taxes and other expenses to keep a roof over their businesses and their storefronts open.