BELFAST – Forced to move from their downtown location, vendors in the Belfast Farmers Market are hoping to relocate to a closed-off section of Main Street next summer.
The city council on Tuesday approved a one-day test of the proposal by agreeing to close Main Street from the crosswalk at Post Office Square to the traffic light at the intersection of Main and High streets. The trial run will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15.
“I’m not sure how it will turn out, but I commend the council for giving them the opportunity to try it out for a day,” Mayor Michael Hurley said Wednesday.
Under the proposal, farmers market vendors would set up their booths along the curbs to enable customers to walk down the middle of the closed street. The sidewalks on either side of the street would remain open to provide access to the street’s storefront business.
If the trial run proves successful and the council agrees to a long-term plan, the Main Street section would be closed for the farmers market part of every Friday during the May-October season.
Police Chief Jeffrey Trafton said he planned to be on site at 6 a.m. the day of the trial run to install barricades to prevent cars from parking on Main Street before the farmers arrive to set up their booths. He said he and the Public Works director, Wes Richards, would get together in the next few days to determine the best way to reroute traffic through the downtown.
“If the council wants it done, we can make it work,” Trafton said Wednesday. “All I’m interested in is traffic safety.”
For the past few years, the farmers market has operated from a vacant lot on Lower Main Street next to Dudley’s Diner. Because that lot is scheduled to be converted into residential parking for a condominium project across the street, the farmers market needs a new location, market representative Anna Antaki of Montville told the council.
Antaki said the farmers spoke to shop owners along the section of Main Street they want to use and said some were “wildly enthusiastic” about the proposal, while others deemed it “a good idea.” Antaki said that some of the storekeepers believe the added foot traffic downtown would be good for business.
She acknowledged that many expressed concerns about losing parking spaces for half the day, but were willing to give the proposal a try. There are 16 parallel-parking spots on that part of Main Street that would be closed in order to accommodate the farmers market.
“I’m a firm believer that the farmers market should be really as close to town as possible,” Antaki said. “Rather than hide it, why not put it in the open?”
Some of those who would be affected by the loss of parking and a closed Main Street every Friday for half a year were less than enthusiastic.
Mark Weaver, owner of Weaver’s Bakery, said that while he initially “thought it might be a good idea,” he said that after weighing the likely outcome he doubted that closing a portion of Main Street would be a plus for the downtown.
“It’s hard enough to find enough people to come to town now, let alone blocking the street off every Friday,” Weaver said.
Mark Martelon, owner of The Gothic coffee shop and ice cream parlor on Post Office Square, also expressed reservations. In a letter circulated among his fellow downtown merchants, Martelon said that while he sympathized with the farmers’ plight, he suggested they should consider other options.
“They should have little trouble finding a new place that puts them in the thick of things without stopping Main Street in the bargain,” Martelon said. “Many compete directly with some of us, the advantage going to them for having no rent or light bill to lower their bottom line.”