LENOX — A plan presented by the Chamber of Commerce and approved by the Select Board to return the Lenox Farmers Market to Lilac Park downtown for a one-year trial this summer is facing intense opposition from several long-established local merchants and some residents.
Joseph Nejaime, owner of Nejaime's Wine Cellar for more than 30 years, and Earl Albert, co-owner of Loeb's Foodtown since 1968, spoke out forcefully Wednesday at a crowded Select Board meeting.
They and other opponents voiced concern about competition with year-round food purveyors as well as potential traffic congestion, parking and safety problems.
"We've been here all winter long, struggling through the winter, trying to keep things together," Albert told the Select Board. "Everybody does. Having it across the street, in the park, on probably the busiest intersection in town, our own townspeople don't want to come in to town because you've got it so congested with other stuff."
The Farmers Market moved to the Shakespeare & Company campus in 2012 following three years downtown in Triangle Park, just north of Lilac Park. Traffic congestion and parking problems led to the market's relocation. But vendors dropped out because customer traffic at the theater complex was deemed insufficient.
On Feb. 24, responding to Chamber of Commerce Director Kameron Spaulding, the Select Board approved use of town-owned Lilac Park on Fridays from 1 to 5, starting May 27 until mid-September.
"We're not against farmers markets in general or this farmers market in particular," Nejaime said. "Rather, it's the location and to a large extent, how we got to this point as it's about to start."
Nejaime asked the Select Board to consider not allowing it to start at all, "but that may be impossible." Instead, he advocated a different, permanent location where there is no opposition, traffic could be accommodated and where the market could expand.
He acknowledged "self-interest" since the Farmers Market would compete with his store and others downtown.
"We'll continue to take this position until we prevail," he said, "because it's too costly for us not to. I know that I would suffer."
Select Board Chairman Edward Lane said the Farmers Market relocation was approved on the assumption that "anytime you have more people in town, it's better for business."
But, he added, "if what we did is detrimental to business, then we've got to back up and look at it. That's fair. I know there are a lot of people who are not happy with this, and there are probably a lot who are happy with it."
Lane promised a review of the issue starting Monday with the Chamber of Commerce and the Lenox Merchants Group. He conceded that whatever decision is made, "some people aren't going to be happy. I can't see any way we can mediate this to meet everybody's wishes."
"If we have to back up on this, OK, we'll do it," said Lane, voicing his personal opinion.
Spaulding agreed that "we need to have a more thorough discussion." In an interview on Thursday, the Chamber of Commerce director said "our intent is to always promote business downtown. But if we were incorrect, we're all willing to admit we were wrong, if we are."
"We're always interested in the competitive pressure issue," he added. "We don't want to create competition with our year-round members, and we hope there are ways to mitigate that."
Lilac Park is used for two summer weekend fairs to benefit the Lenox Youth Basketball Association and the Church on the Hill. It also hosts a weekly Wednesday night music series and the Berkshire International Film Festival has proposed showing family films on two nights in July.
"It's time to look at the entire policy at the park," said Selectman David Roche, "to see how we support our merchants, how we support the community and the town itself."
According to former Selectwoman Linda Messana, the Farmers Market "is going to hurt our merchants by taking away a piece of the pie from them, and for what good reason? I see safety reasons and I see hurting our people."
Nejaime said he had understood that park activities would be limited to the already scheduled nonprofit events "to protect the park and the overall working of the downtown area."
He suggested that supporters of the Farmers Market relocation "may not have considered all the consequences, some intended and some unintended."
"There are many good and valid reasons that no markets should be there, no for-profit operations," Nejaime said. "A decision of this magnitude was taken without enough input without proper research."
Recalling the challenges of the former Triangle Park location, he told the Select Board: "I don't think we can really afford to learn this lesson again. The circumstances haven't changed except that this is a larger park."
Spaulding said despite the pushback, "we've had just as many or more people who've come forward to support the location. Whether it stays there or moves, I'm sure we can find an amicable solution, though not everyone will be completely happy."
Town Manager Christopher Ketchen told The Eagle that any activities in Lilac Park "must take place in an orderly and safe environment. We will do whatever is asked of us by the broader public as articulated through the Selectmen. I serve at the pleasure of the board."
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
In their own words ...
Views on the scheduled relocation of the weekly Lenox Farmers Market to downtown starting May 27, as expressed at Wednesday night's Select Board meeting:
"For every person I've talked to who doesn't like it, I've talked to someone who does like it, and that goes for merchants as well as residents. We're all going to have to live together after this, so somehow we're going to have to figure it out."
— Selectman Kenneth Fowler, owner of Shear Design hair salon
"Let's look for another location, it's not the proper place to have that there. It hurts all the businesses in my corner area and I personally feel that it's unfair to us who pay our commercial taxes, 365 days a year.
— Earl Albert, owner of Loeb's Foodtown for 48 years
"I'm not opposed to the Farmers Market, I'm opposed to the location. With Friday afternoon traffic and Tanglewood, it's a disaster waiting to happen. We have merchants here 52 weeks a year, they're the fabric of our town. I think it's a travesty. You don't see many local farmers at the Farmers Market. We give them the prime location in Lenox and we say, 'Make as much as you possibly can.' One of the reasons I've heard that they're leaving Shakespeare is that they're not making enough money. Well, I'm sorry, I don't care."
— Linda Messana, former Select Board member