The bustling, down-home atmosphere of a typical Saturday morning is part of the charm of Lawrence's downtown Farmers Market. While some additional space and amenities may increase the number of vendors and/or shoppers at the market, it also could have some undesirable effects. Certainly, if the effort to enlarge and formalize the market results in it being moved from downtown, both the atmosphere and the sales probably would suffer.
There is a danger here of trying to fix something that isn't broken.
How often do you hear anyone say they aren't going to the farmers market because it's too crowded or too difficult to park? Vendors might appreciate access to running water or permanent awnings to provide shade and protection from rain, but what they really come to the market for is to sell, and customers don't seem all that unhappy.
The open-air booths with market umbrellas and portable displays are part of the festive atmosphere. A pouring rain is likely to hold down traffic at the market even if some permanent awnings were in place.
A proposal presented by Farmers Market supporters in 2001 called for a move to a city parking lot in the 800 block of New Hampshire. Running water, bathrooms and permanent shelters would have cost an estimated $350,000. Clearly, those making the proposal planned for the lion's share of that cost to be borne by someone else -- either the city or Downtown Lawrence Inc. (DLI). If vendors were required to shoulder much of the cost, the prices they would have to charge to offset that cost undoubtedly would affect sales.
Farmers Market supporters are scheduled to talk to Lawrence city commissioners tonight about forming a task force to set a course for the market. Coincidentally, city commissioners discussed last week the possibility of reducing funding to DLI. If improvements for the market are a general benefit for downtown, perhaps the city and DLI could agree to dedicate a portion of DLI's funding for that purpose.
The Lawrence Farmers Market is one of the nicest around. On Saturday mornings and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, it combines an entertaining social outing with the opportunity to purchase local products and support local producers. It's a treasure for Lawrence. It's fine to consider ways to make the market better, but it also might be unwise to mess too much with success.