I’d written in these pages eight weeks ago that changes were coming to Santa Monica’s Farmers’ Markets.
It all started when local merchants — primarily Main Street restaurateurs — wanted in on the lucrative action at the Main Street Farmers’ Market. Only one problem: the “non-farm” or prepared food spaces at this and other markets were already filled with purveyors — some of which had been there since the early days of the markets.
The Farmers’ Market staff in City Hall’s Housing and Economic Development Department was advised by the City Attorney that an open application and review process had to be implemented to periodically consider potential new suppliers.
It took three years to create and acquire City Council approval of a purveyor application and evaluation process. The process required all prepared food vendors to apply/reapply for the 25 non-farm spaces available at the city’s four markets.
Ingredient sourcing, sustainability and being Santa Monica-based businesses were stressed in the vetting process. Other criteria included open-air market selling experience, product uniqueness and overall quality. Applicants would receive scores on how well they met the criteria from a seven person evaluation committee consisting of three City Hall employees and four residents.
Notices went out to market suppliers earlier this month as to who would be leaving and who would be taking over beginning Oct. 2. City Hall’s market supervisor Laura Avery told me that "Main Street’s Sunday market has 13 prepared food stalls, Saturday’s Pico market has seven and the Downtown markets have one or two each.”
According to Jodi Low, Main Street’s market manager and special projects director, Röckenwagner (who will stay at the Wednesday Downtown market), The Breadman, Corn Maiden Tamales, Cafe Laurent and Bower’s Gourmet Sausage were all cut.
They will be replaced by Finn McCool’s Irish Pub, Lula Cocina Mexicana, Manchego and Euphoria Loves Rawvolution. La Grande Orange, Salute and 212 Pier Cafe will be featured in a rotating restaurant booth. All these purveyors currently have permanent storefront locations on or near Main Street.
New businesses to the Sunday Main Street market will include Kafe K, (also on Main Street) Ca’ d’ Oro Bakery (826 Pico Blvd.), non-local Beverly Hills Juice/Planet Raw, Bean and Thyme, and Sno:la/Guanni Chocolate.
At the Saturday Downtown market, The Breadman will be replaced by ”Valerie at the Market” from Valerie Confections.
At the Saturday Pico market, the Old Town Baking Company, Lox of Bagels and Expresso Experience (whose owner is retiring) will be replaced by La Pain du Jour (828 Pico Blvd.) and CJ’s Paella. Cafe Laurent (moving over from Main Street) will assume the pastry and coffee service.
It’s interesting to note that “farmers” selling fruits, vegetables, flowers, eggs, honey, canned goods and plants are not affected by the new rules so no changes there. This raises an interesting point as to why the process for reconsidering purveyors doesn’t apply equally to all market participants. It’s even more obvious in this light that the changes were implemented for political reasons and not to serve the markets’ customers.
When word spread around the Pico market a week ago that many long-time packaged food purveyors would be leaving, customers were angry. The consensus was that changes were made more to mollify local merchants wanting access to the various markets than to improve the market experience for patrons.
A lot of us have been ongoing customers of some market vendors for years. As a result, most regulars have developed friendships and a camaraderie with the purveyors. With most market customers satisfied with the products and pricing, they see no reason to “fix something that’s not broken.”
One regular complained there were no signs or notices posted (at the Pico market) about the changes. “But we all saw all the flyers and signs about recycling and being green,” she said. Low told me that there had been ample public notice about the changes and they were even featured in Daily Press news articles.
A committee with only four members of the public, chosen because they live in neighborhoods where the markets are located (Sunset Park, Pico and Ocean Park) and shop the local markets, is hardly representative. How about market customers like me, who live in Mid-City or North of Montana? How about the large number of non-Santa Monicans who were also left completely out of the loop? And, there were no community forums, either. No wonder so many folks feel blind-sided.
City staff and the City Council’s agenda to give sustainability and Santa Monica-based businesses preference over quality and cost (which wasn’t even mentioned) could turn off patrons and endanger market popularity. It’s unfortunate but par for the course.
I’ll be following up in the future on how well the “new” purveyors have been received. Then we’ll know whether City Hall has laid an egg or bought the golden goose.
Bill can be reached at email@example.com