MAIN STREET — With the launch of a citywide campaign this year to urge consumers to buy from local businesses, one merchant association is hoping the neighborhood Santa Monica Farmers’ Market also follows the same philosophy.
On the list of about a dozen non-agricultural vendors at the Main Street Farmers’ Market, selling everything from French crepes to tamales to Louisiana hotlinks — is one participant — Groundworks — who also maintains a business on the commercial corridor where the weekly street fair is located.
Gary Gordon, the executive director of the Main Street Business Improvement Association, said that there used to be a practice that if a Main Street restaurant wanted to participate in the prepared foods section of the farmers’ market, it would get in.
“Over time that practice seemed to have evaporated,” he said.
The situation first arose about two years ago when Euphoria Loves Rawvolution inquired about becoming involved but was initially turned away because organizers were in the middle of rewriting rules for the entire organization and drafting a new request for proposals (RFP) document that included a scoring system for applicants, awarding points depending on their location and where they buy ingredients.
“It turned out the association seemed to have some desire to have edits and changes to the RFP and we said let’s hold off on the RFP, go forward with (rewriting) the rules, and let (Euphoria) in,” Jodi Low, the organizer for the Sunday market, said.
The restaurant remained for three months, withdrawing after experiencing difficulty in simultaneously managing a satellite location.
Two years later, Gordon said he has yet to see the new RFP.
While the selection of the non-agricultural vendors has long been an issue for Gordon, he said it recently arose again following discussions about the new Buy Local campaign, which urges consumers to keep their dollars in the Santa Monica economy. The campaign is sponsored by local business associations, including Main Street, Montana Avenue Merchants Association, Bayside District Corp., and the Pico Improvement Organization. The Farmers’ Market and Santa Monica Daily Press are also partners.
“This is as local as you can get,” Gordon said.
There have been a number of Main Street businesses that participated in the Sunday market, including Panini Garden, La Vecchia and The Galley. Current vendor Rockenwagner was previously located in the Edgemar Center for the Arts.
Low said that local businesses have always been given priority, noting that for the four years she’s been with the Farmers’ Market, Main Street vendors have gotten first preference.
“The current policy is that if there’s space available, then Main Street businesses get preference,” she said. “There just happens to be no space right now.”
She added that many of the vendors have been with the market since its inception more than 15 years ago at a time when few of the businesses on Main Street wanted to participate.
“I think some of the controversy now is that it’s so popular that they want a piece of the pie when the people who are there baked the pie,” she said.
The new rules for the Farmers’ Market is expected to go to the City Council in October after it makes the rounds with the business organizations that have a market in their neighborhood. The new RFP should follow soon after.
Gordon said several new merchants have asked about participating in the market, including La Grande Orange.
He added that the point system proposed has problems because it favors businesses that have been in the market for a long time more than it favors Main Street establishments.
“We hit the roof on that,” he said.
Low said that under the scoring criteria, businesses located in the same district as the market will receive the highest score in that specific category.
“If the Lazy Daisy Cafe applied for the Pico Farmers’ Market, in that scoring criteria, they should get the highest score,” she said. “If they applied to the Main Street market, they would not get the highest score.”
For Euphoria Loves Rawvolution, which buys its produce from the Farmers’ Market, it took two years to finally get admitted.
The notice that the restaurant could participate came at an inopportune time, but owner Janabai Amsden said she jumped on the highly coveted spot regardless.
The restaurant, which was placed next to the Carbon Grill, ended up losing money for three straight months.
“We were trying to introduce food in that environment and make it cost effective,” Amsden said. “It takes a while to build clientele, especially competing with a well known restaurant.”
Amsden said that while she believes the people involved with the market were trying to do the best they could in a system that is a “bit marginalized,” she believes the process is a bit unfair.
“I’m paying Main Street rent, which is very high, and on Sunday morning and afternoon my business is slow,” she said.