The treasurer of the Genesee Country Farmers’ Market, which recently concluded its 46th season providing locally grown produce and other food items, today said that Batavia City Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. has reached out to her to set up a meeting in the near future.
“That’s a start,” said Sharon Brent, speaking by telephone from her Middleport home. “Mr. Jankowski said that (Interim City Manager) Rachael (Tabelski) would be contacting me.”
Brent is owner of Schwab Farm Market in Gasport and has been involved with the farmers’ market since its inception.
The future location of the public market is unclear in light of the fact that the city is looking at the Alva Place parking lot as the desired site for a new headquarters for the Batavia Police Department.
The farmers’ market has operated at that location since 2016, when it entered into an agreement with the Batavia Downtown Business Improvement District to have one large market at one location – instead of two or more sites in and around the city.
Prior to that, the market was located at the Kmart parking lot for about a decade before moving to a lot at Batavia Downs from 2006 through 2015.
Previous reports that the market moved 11 times in 15 years referred to its early years, not recently, Brent said.
“We originally started in front of Super Duper, where the (Tonawanda Valley Federal) credit union is now and we used to be right where Wendy’s is, in the Angotti’s (Beverage Corp.) parking lot and way behind the (former) Engine House Restaurant – near a skating place on some gravel,” Brent said. “That was the reason we left the city and went out to Kmart and the Downs, because we wanted a stable location.”
Brent said the only reason the market returned to the city is because the BID requested a consolidation – with the stipulation that there would be just one market at one location.
“The BID used to run the farmers’ market that was on Thursday at Angotti’s and then they moved to Alva Place, and it was run by volunteers,” Brent recalled. “(Former BID Director) Don Burkel approached us and proposed Downtown Batavia Public Market in one location. He said we can’t be at the Downs and at Alva Place.”
So, the area vendors hit the road to Batavia on three days (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays) instead of the two they spent at Batavia Downs, Brent said.
She said that after a couple years, BID officials asked the GCFM to “run all aspects of the farmers’ market as it was getting difficult to find volunteers.”
“Of all the locations over the 40 some years, that (Alva Place) still has been the best place as far as ability for people to get to,” she said. “It has anything that you as a business owner would like in a location and it fit all of those things.”
Brent said that five years ago, there never was a discussion about a police station going there.
“That was never brought up,” she said.
Things have changed since then, however, as the city has enlisted Architecture Unlimited LLC, of Williamsville, to conduct a feasibility study into the construction of a new police facility on the lot north of Alva Place and west of Bank Street.
Brent said the GCFM board of directors is “definitely open to other options” and welcomes the opportunity to provide input to city officials.
“It is what it is. I’ve done well. I run a good business and have done well no matter where I’ve been,” she said. “But, as far as the residents of the city, to me they should have a voice in what they would want.”
Business Improvement District representatives said their organization continues to support the farmers’ market and they understand why Brent and her colleagues wish to stay at the Alva Place lot.
“We see the value in it and we support the public market,” BID President Don Brown said. “To us, it is an event Downtown that brings people Downtown, but it’s not a BID event. They’re their own entity.”
Brown called the Alva Place site “a fabulous location and they’d be crazy not to want that.”
“My perception of the situation is that this has been a long-term plan for the police station – it has been going on for several years here," he said. "They’ve had all kinds of studies and votes, and all kinds of ideas of where to put it and why to put it.
"The public market was never going to be there permanently from what I recall, unless they were going to build a building …if they got the DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) money and the BID wanted to bond something like that.”
Brown said the BID spent $25,000 on a feasibility study in an unsuccessful application for a DRI award.
“We didn’t get it; so, the BID definitely decided that they didn’t want to bond it," he said. "It was too much and they couldn’t tell us how much traffic the market was going to bring or whether the market was going to quadruple. So, why create another tax for something that we’re unsure of. That was the long side of that.”
BID Executive Director Beth Kemp, who sits on the GCFM board, noted that her agency is not as involved as it was in the past, but “we definitely support them as with any event that happens in the downtown.”
“We understand the vitality that a public market brings to the Downtown, and we’re here to assist in any way,” she said. “We don’t want to see the public market go away from Downtown, and we’re eager to come up with other options if that’s the way it has to go. I know that our board has tried to generate a couple of alternative ideas, but so far nothing substantial.”
Kemp said the consensus of GCFM directors is that they wish they could stay put.
“Yes, ideally they love that location, they love the demographics that they serve which has increased since they’ve been there and the walkability,” she said. “Out of all their locations, that is the most ideal; that is the one they love the most.”
File photo of Genesee Country Farmers' Market by Howard Owens.