By Earle Kimel (Staff Writer/Herald Tribune)
Linda Wilson retired this month.
VENICE — The Friends of Sarasota County Parks will officially take over operation of the Venice Farmers Market when it opens at 8 a.m. today along the 200 block of Tampa Avenue.
Patrons will not see any changes as all the usual vendors will be there. And they may even recognize the new manager, Lee Perron, as a familiar face because he regularly pinch-hit for former manager Linda Wilson while she was on vacation.
“First off, we’re thrilled to be working with the community and the city of Venice,” said Perron, who also manages the Englewood Farmers Market, which is open in season on Thursdays.
The Friends of Sarasota County Parks operate the Englewood market and a Wednesday market hosted at Phillippi Estate Park in Sarasota County. As a practice, the nonprofit group donates proceeds above operating costs to other area nonprofits.
At Phillippi Estate Park, that typically means supporting the maintenance of a historic home at the park.
In Englewood, proceeds go to local parks, food banks, the Englewood Care Clinic, Meals of Wheels and Englewood Elementary School.
“We will be working with the Venice community to get an idea of where will be the best places to invest, that adds the most value,” Perron said.
Wilson, who operated the Venice market for six years, retired in June to travel with her husband, David. Under her auspices, the market grew from 14 vendors to 45 in season, and at least 38 in the off-season.
The city opened a search for Wilson’s successor, though City Manager Ed Lavallee said the Friends of Sarasota County Parks was an easy choice, partly because of how well Perron and Wilson had worked together in the past.
Perron and Wilson brought the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to Venice and Englewood in 2014. The program allows people to use their Electronics Benefits Transfer cards to purchase produce, receiving up to $20 in additional buying power to help combat food insecurity.
And, of course, he already filled in for Wilson when she was absent.
“If anyone has a working knowledge about how this operates, it’s him,” Lavalle said.
Lavalle characterized the handoff between Wilson and Perron as a smooth one.
“She has done a great job of keeping her vendors informed, indicating to them how they have to maintain their insurance, identified the new market managers by name, so their insurance and liability coverage is up to speed, so I think they’ve done a remarkable job in a relatively short period of time providing for the change.” Lavalle said.
Even as Perron gets acclimated to the market on Tampa Avenue, he will have to search for a temporary site by April 2018, when the city is scheduled to rebuild Tampa, Venice and Miami avenues as part of the $18 million road bond projects.
The work is scheduled to be complete in November 2018. But even without the road project, there have been thoughts of moving the market off Tampa Avenue for a variety of reasons, Lavallee noted. Perron said there’s plenty of time to work out a temporary site during the road construction as well as determine whether its future is back on Tampa Avenue or another city location.
Perron said the market won’t see any major changes. Unlike Englewood — where all vendors are agricultural in nature — Venice has a mix of food and arts and crafts vendors. Both have extensive educational and children’s programs.
“That’s a really good mix for Venice,” Perron said. “Different communities really represent different needs; you really can’t cookie-cutter vendors from one community to another in a thoughtful way.
“It’s very much a tourist destination, the downtown area on the island,” he added. “That reflects the needs that the Venice community would like to see in the farmers market.”