When Hollister Farmers’ Market Manager Corey Shaffer accepted the position last January, she faced a challenge. Brick and mortar stores in downtown Hollister expressed frustration with vendor booths and vehicles blocking their doors; less foot traffic resulting from San Benito Street being closed for the event; and vendors from outside San Benito County competing against local vendors.
Downtown businesses also said a drop in sales on Wednesdays was due to the streets closing at noon so vendors could set up for the weekly market.
In response, Shaffer decided that this year the street would close at 1 p.m. instead. While the Farmers’ Market stretched from Fourth Street to Seventh Street, Shaffer decided to start it at Fifth Street. Shortened by a block, Shaffer said that the number of vendors has held steady at 115.
The most significant change Shaffer made was to allow any business registered with the Hollister Downtown Association (HDA) to operate a booth in front of its building. If the business does not want a booth, it can still rent out the space so that no other vendor or vehicle can block its door. Shaffer said most downtown businesses that have this option have either utilized booths or reserved the space in front of their buildings.
“The market has been great,” Shaffer said. “Everybody that has been involved has been extremely supportive. Lots of people are selling out each week.”
Last year, another vendor’s booth, vehicles, and piles of boxes blocked the doors of Johnny’s Bar & Grill every Wednesday afternoon during Farmers’ Market season. Owner Peter Lago said that caused sales to decrease about 25% every Wednesday, but it is no longer an issue now that he is able to reserve space in front of his building and keep the door open for lunch customers.
“Corey has done a great job reorganizing the Farmers’ Market so that it’s actually advantageous to our business now,” Lago said. “We now have the ability to be included and truly participate.”
Among the ways Johnny’s Bar participates in the market is through Facebook Live videos.
“Our chefs do live feeds where they shop the market for fresh vegetables and then incorporate the produce into the food on our own menu,” Lago said.
Fisher’s, another downtown restaurant, takes a similar approach. Chef Mike Fisher and his cooks walk through the market and shop directly from farmers, whose produce they incorporate into the restaurant’s offerings.
Some businesses, including Fisher’s, have found that forming partnerships is an effective way to do business during the Farmers’ Market.
Aside from owning his restaurant, Fisher has been a board member of Growing Hearts, a Hollister-based nonprofit which provides career training and community service opportunities to adult community members with developmental disabilities. This year, when Fisher reserved the space in front of his restaurant for Farmers’ Market days, he gave Growing Hearts the space to set up a booth and sell succulents. When customers purchase a succulent from Growing Hearts, they can get a discount on a meal at Fisher’s.
“I consider our success during Farmers’ Market a result of both the market itself and the presence of Growing Hearts in front of our businesses,” said Fisher.
For Growing Hearts, simply having a presence at the Farmers’ Market has made a great difference.
“Profit is not the focus; it’s about getting our name out there and raising awareness about the fact that we have an underutilized population of people with strong abilities who need jobs,” Growing Hearts founder Chris Evans said.
Wednesdays bring a bump in business for Ohana Shave Ice, another downtown merchant. Owner and San Benito County Supervisor Peter Hernandez said that the Farmers’ Market causes his company’s sales to double on Wednesdays. Instead of using a typical vendor booth, Ohana sells its frozen treats from a trailer. When the line outside the trailer grows long, staffers direct customers over to the shop.
Hernandez acknowledged that the recent changes have made the Farmers’ Market more fair to businesses, but said he felt that
further improvements were necessary for the event to reach its full potential. He said he’d like to see a greater focus on local businesses.
“If we want a healthy local economy, the market needs to be more geared toward the businesses already here,” Hernandez said. “The ones that stay here are the ones that keep their tax dollars here. I believe if HDA had more of a dialogue of working together, it would be more of a success.”
Farmers in particular, Hernandez noted, need to be the center of the market. Fisher echoed this point.
“My success and the overall success of the market is related to the ratio of farmers to other vendors,” Fisher said. “When there is a correct ratio, everybody thrives. That’s not to say the other vendors aren’t important, but the farmers deserve special treatment.”
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