LENOX — Crowded summertime streets and sidewalks. The more people, the better. Police will monitor the flow of traffic on Friday afternoons, so bring it on.
That was the strong message from the Select Board this past week as members approved 5-0 a trial agreement for the Lenox Farmers Market on the lawn next to the town library for up to 20 weeks, starting next Friday as a kickoff to the Memorial Day holiday weekend and the tourism high season.
Advocates on the board and the Lenox Chamber of Commerce touted informal survey results depicting overwhelming support from merchants and the public for the return of the market from the nearby Shakespeare & Company grounds to the heart of the historic district.
Nineteen vendors will sell food products only — no wine, beer or crafts — from 1 to 5 at the Roche Reading Park. The compromise location replaces a previously proposed site across Main Street in Lilac Park that aroused firm opposition from several prominent business owners and some residents at the May 4 Select Board meeting.
"We put our heads together," said Select Board Chairman Edward Lane, referring to meetings he attended that involved Selectman Kenneth Fowler, Town Manager Christopher Ketchen, the new Farmers Market President Johannah Hunter, and Lenox Chamber of Commerce Director Kameron Spaulding. A Chamber survey found 86 percent support for the market downtown, Spaulding said.
The aim was "to appease people who felt we were going to cause too much damage in Lilac Park, and traffic issues," Lane explained at Wednesday night's board meeting. "We knew it wasn't going to be an easy answer."
But, Lane emphasized, "the reason we want a Farmers Market is that we actually do want a lot of people in town. You can have the market in the outskirts, but that doesn't bring people into town and that's our goal, right or wrong. We weren't going to make everybody happy, we have a tough job here and that's what we're elected to do, what we think is the right thing for the entire town."
He described the reading park solution as "a decent compromise, we pulled together."
Acknowledging an outpouring of concerns about placing the market downtown, Fowler declared: "That's how we define ourselves, meeting challenges and solving them instead of running from them."
He stressed that "if we're going to have development in this town, we have to try these sorts of things, put new people into town who wouldn't normally come in yet there's going to be some impact on the downtown. This is a provisional thing and we're going to try to see if we can make it work."
But if a better location emerges, it will be investigated, Fowler promised.
At the same time, he conceded, "I know there's more problems coming. Maybe we're putting the cart before the horse by bringing people in. what we need to look at is our parking problem. That's what I keep hearing, parking problem, over and over again."
Fowler, owner of the downtown Shear Design hair salon, suggested that better signage for the town's parking lots is needed while the board explores how to increase available municipal parking.
Alluding to concerns over empty storefronts, he asserted that "the overwhelming number of people out on the street and in the other businesses have told me this is a good idea."
"The clear message we have to send out is that we have to quit saying we don't want people coming into town," Fowler added. "That's what I keep hearing, but the message we should keep sending is that Lenox welcomes people, new people to town. If we don't have a vibrant downtown, then we don't have a downtown, we have a lot of empty storefronts."
"If the worst thing we do as a Board of Selectmen is bring a lot of people into town, so be it," Lane agreed.
Selectman David Roche, citing an informal Facebook poll he conducted as well as letters received by the board, described 72 positive and 11 negative comments from local residents and merchants, "people who have some skin in the game."
But a cautious approach is needed, he added.
"If anything alarms us, we'll have to sit down and take some immediate action," Roche said.
"I have a lot of faith in our police chief, Steve O'Brien, to make a decision that's in the best interest of the town's public safety," Selectman Channing Gibson commented. "I take it very seriously that he feels the traffic issues, in terms of congestion and safety, are things that are in his control."
Ketchen, the town manager, pointed out that an anonymous donor has funded the first Friday of police coverage during the market's four hours.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.