Downtown Farmers Market vendors have wrested control of the market away from the Downtown Partnership and will have the opportunity to run the market themselves.
The City Commission unanimously approved a request Tuesday from the 55 vendors to put them in charge of perhaps the biggest downtown attraction.
“The vendors are not only more qualified to run the market, we’ve been doing so,” said vendor Greg Roy, who led the charge for independence.
The Downtown Partnership has been running the market since 2002 (the year the Downtown Association split into the partnership and the Downtown Sarasota Merchants Association) and wanted to continue to do so. It is in the final stages of a merger with the Downtown Merchants Association and the Palm Avenue Merchants Association to reform the Downtown Association.
Vendors said that new organization would cause too much disruption before season.
Downtown Partnership Chairman Phil Chmieleski used Roy’s own words that the market has never been more successful than it is now to bolster his argument that the association should keep control of the market.
“Mr. Roy said it. Why would you change a perfectly running system?” Chmieleski asked commissioners.
Paul Thorpe, the former head of the Downtown Association and creator of the farmers market 30 years ago, said the new association should be given the opportunity to show that it can run the market.
He countered the vendors’ contention that they were the only ones with a vested interest in the success of the market. Thorpe argued that the association actually has a greater interest in the success of the market, and downtown in general, because they are operating all year-long, not just Saturday mornings.
“I’m concerned what your decision is going to be,” said Thorpe. “This is the way the market should be run.”
When the decision was made to side with the vendors, Chmieleski said it was a slap in the face to downtown merchants.
“The City Commission just told them that they don’t matter,” he said. “It astonishes me how the preponderance of weighty evidence we presented was simply ignored. Sadly, this is not the first time I have seen this happen at the commission table.”
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