By BOB MUDGE – SENIOR WRITER the Venice Gondolier
With the start date for downtown road work less than three months away, patrons of the Venice Farmers Market may be getting nervous about what’s going to happen to it until the roads are done.
Market manager Lee Perron says everything is under control.
From April until the work is completed (the goal is November, before season), the market will set up on Avenue de Parques, just west of Venice City Hall, instead of on West Tampa Avenue.
It was one of the potential sites in earlier discussions of relocating the market to reduce traffic congestion and avoid having to close it for special events downtown, when city policy only allows one road to be closed.
The prospect of moving the market led about 30 vendors to appear last May before the city’s Economic Development Advisory Board to object to any relocation. In particular, moving to near City Hall, several blocks away from the current site, would have less visibility and less parking, they said.
Nothing more came of those discussions, but remaining in place is not an option for the market while all the main roads downtown are being redone.
Perron, who has been the market manager since July, said he’s still meeting with the city to work out the details, including the date of the move, but, “I think it’s going to be pretty simple and easy transition to make.”
It helps, he said, that the market has fewer vendors and lower attendance over the summer, meaning parking and utilities are less of a concern.
He’ll probably be able to have the market open a few extra Saturdays as well.
There will be conflicts with Venice MainStreet’s Seafood Festival, in May, and Art Festival, in November, which will have priority for the market’s new space. But Perron said the market may be held in conjunction with craft fairs MainStreet has planned for June and September.
Sun Fiesta, held in October, won’t require a closure either, as it likely will be held at the airport.
Perron is confident the market will be back in its usual spot in November as planned, though another rough hurricane season is a possible “wild card,” he said.
Another 15 vendors have joined the market since he took over, Perron said, all in the food space.
There are new farm vendors, including one selling certified organic produce, and five new bakers with different specialties, one of whom makes the trek from Port St. Lucie, on the other side of the state, every Saturday.
There’s even a cheesemonger selling cheese from boutique cheese houses.
“The diversity in the food space has really created an increase in the attendance,” he said. “In fact, we set a record last weekend.”
An economic impact study performed in 2016 put the average weekly attendance at the market at 3,000. Counters clicked off 4,500 people on Feb. 3, he said.
“Saturdays have become quite the event downtown Venice,” he said.
By adding vendors and reducing operating costs, Perron said, the market has shown that it’s not just sustainable, but that it can give back to the community.
This month it will be donating a total of $5,000 to the Salvation Army Food Pantry; Our Mother’s House, for single mothers; Good Samaritan Pharmacy and Health Services; and Friends of Sarasota County Parks.
Those four nonprofits meet needs for food, health and shelter, complementing the market’s mission, Perron said.
Another round of donations is likely during the summer, he said.
“It’s a good start,” he said.
Email: bmudge@venicegondolier. com