Compromise location reached for Lenox Farmers Market; Select Board vote next


LENOX >> Following an outpouring of negative and positive reaction to the return of the Lenox Farmers Market downtown, the approved location in Lilac Park has been shifted across the street and slightly south to the town-owned Roche Reading Park, adjacent to the library.

The one-year trial agreement, confirmed on Friday by town leaders, the Chamber of Commerce and the market's new president, is designed to ease the concerns of several prominent business owners over traffic, parking and competition during the height of the summer season.

The weekly market would operate from 1 to 5 p.m. on about 20 Friday afternoons beginning May 27.

The Select Board is expected to vote on the new location at its meeting this Wednesday evening. The agreement aimed at defusing the controversy was developed by Selectmen Kenneth Fowler and Edward Lane, chairman of the board.

"It's a decent enough solution; worth trying," Fowler said. "All studies show that farmers markets bring in new people who might not otherwise come downtown. I don't think it will have the tremendous adverse effect on the businesses that have expressed that."

"We're on the right path," he said. "It's not the perfect solution to the objections and problems that have been raised, but we're trying to respond to them. We're also committed to the Farmers Market and it would not be fair to rescind our approval."

The Select Board had endorsed the original Lilac Park site last February.

"It's a good move, a beautiful park and hopefully there will be fewer upset people," stated Johannah Hunter, the new leader of the Farmers Market.

The revised agreement has several conditions: No craft vendors will be allowed, 17 or 18 food booths are already reserved, and two more have been designated to be offered free to Earl Albert, co-owner of Loeb's Foodtown, and Joseph Nejaime, owner of Nejaime's Wine Cellars. Summer season booth rental is normally $550.

A third space will be used by the Chamber of Commerce to promote downtown businesses and a fourth will be kept in reserve.

Nejaime and Albert had vigorously objected during a recent Select Board meeting to the return of the market downtown.

"This solution does not resolve any of the concerns," Nejaime said in an interview on Friday. "It still seeks to create additional traffic without creating any parking, and it creates additional competition that's exempted from any requirements. And it takes advantage of town resources for negligible return or for some hoped-for return. We're forsaking our existing business in our quest for more."

Albert declined comment.

However, Kameron Spaulding, director of the Lenox Chamber of Commerce, said that he believed "the concerns of the merchants were taken to heart. I think we've found a better location, especially for traffic and parking, and it respects the town's policy not to overburden Lilac Park," which hosts several craft fairs for nonprofit groups during the summer and a Wednesday night music series.

The market will be set up on a grassy area between the sidewalk and the street in front of the library's reading park, as well as in a portion of the park, Spaulding pointed out.

Fowler acknowledged "a really strong sentiment not to put undue stress on Lilac Park. There were a lot of upset people who wanted the peaceful enjoyment of the park."

Spaulding pointed out that the new location is close to three municipal parking areas — behind Berkshire Bank, behind the library and off Old Stockbridge Road, adjacent to Town Hall.

The new site "eliminates the biggest concerns and gives us a compromise everyone can live with," he maintained.

Parking is his top priority, he added, since there was no desire to see the Village Center parking lot compromised, since it serves Nejaime's Wine Cellar, the post office, Greylock Federal Credit Union and other retailers and professional offices.

"It's such a hot political issue we've decided to bow out of it," said Doris Barsauskas, a founder of the Lenox Merchants Group and owner of MacKimmie Co., which specializes in blankets, throws and personal textiles. "Most people are happy it's coming to town, but we have to work 110 percent to support the businesses most affected: the Alberts and Joe Nejaime."

The Chamber of Commerce surveyed its members on whether they support the return of the Farmers Market from Shakespeare & Company to downtown. Out of about 190, 54 responded and 80 percent were in favor, Spaulding said.

"This is a better deal for the local merchants and for the Farmers Market," Spaulding said. "We're hoping to minimize any hostility."

Since the agreement is "provisional," Fowler pointed out, "we want to see if this is as bad as some think or as good as some think."

He stressed that "we try to respond to the majority of people. A few merchants are very upset, but the majority want to see this going on. That's what the opponents don't understand or want to accept."

Fowler commented that "as town officials, we're not supposed to take care of special interests but do what's best for most. Whenever you bring in something, you'll always have some sort of opposition."

As a strong supporter of economic development, Fowler said, "If we don't try things but keep doing the same things and expect better results, where does that leave us? I'm always trying to think of the business owners as a community, working toward the things that benefit most."

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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