Although the Hollister City Council approved temporary street closures for future Hollister Downtown Association (HDA) events during the March 4 meeting, discussion and debate centered on the Farmers’ Market, which will take place from May 1 to Sept. 25.
Councilman Rolan Resendiz said he pulled the item from the consent agenda (where multiple items are approved in bulk with a single council vote) because during a listening session for the Farmers’ Market, he perceived that most of the downtown businesses did not benefit from the event.
“Some people even said they just might as well close down their doors because the booths are right in front of their brick and mortars,” Resendiz said.
HDA Executive Director Jeana Arnold said changes to the market, based on the listening session and a poll of 27 downtown businesses and 73 vendors, will include free booths for businesses that have a San Benito Street address. In previous years, the Farmers’ Market stretched from down to Fourth Street to Seventh Street; this year it will stretch from Fifth Street to Seventh Street.
The market will still be held on Wednesdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., with San Benito Street closing for event setup at 1 p.m.
Among those who said they saw little business during the event was Jack Barbieri, owner of Hollister House Bar and Grill.
“The street shuts down at 1 o’clock, it doesn’t clear out until after 9 o’clock at night,” Barbieri said. “No foot traffic for me because the vendors’ vehicles are parked right in front of us.”
Barbieri said he asked to reformat the event by placing the vendors in the middle of San Benito Street in order to allow customers to use the sidewalk. While he said he understood the event’s goal is to bring foot traffic to downtown, he said businesses—specifically restaurants—don’t benefit because the focus is on the temporary vendors.
Ohana Shave Ice owner and San Benito County Supervisor Peter Hernandez spoke during public comment and said he noticed the Hollister Downtown Association tried to be considerate of downtown businesses by offering them a booth. But he shared Barbieri’s sentiments that the HDA gave preference to vendors over the downtown businesses during the Farmers’ Market.
“I know that sounds almost contradictory,” Hernandez said. “I think it creates a lack of focus on what the vision is with our Farmers’ Market.”
Hernandez echoed Mayor Ignacio Velazquez’s point that it would benefit the community if in the future the market took place on Saturdays.
Said Velazquez: “At the end of the day we want the public here to come out and enjoy the Farmers’ Market. It’s very tough, as we know, people are stuck in traffic all day coming home. A majority of our residents can’t enjoy it.”
As it currently stands, Hernandez said, the Farmers’ Market caters to a minority group that does not commute to work and is able to attend the market during its middle-of-the-day schedule.
“If we’re really focusing on a Saturday, then I think it opens up the door for all the new people that move into our community,” Hernandez said. “And it becomes a local vendor-focused Farmers’ Market then at that point it becomes, I think, a lot more endearing.”
Johnny’s Bar and Grill owner Peter Lago said moving the event to Saturday was a good option, and also suggested using Fifth Street as the main corridor since most businesses there were closed on the weekends.
“We’re basically kind of being used as a sort of a backdrop and the only winners in this situation are those Wednesday vendors who come in, take the money out of our community and then go back over the hill,” Lago said, adding that the Farmers’ Market needed to feature local farmers so that residents could feel good about supporting them and knowing the money will stay in San Benito County.
Councilmembers Carol Lenoir and Marty Richman were opposed to moving the market to Saturday. Lenoir argued that because other cities host larger markets on the same day, it would be difficult to attract vendors to Hollister.
Richman noted that he didn’t believe businesses could do better on Wednesdays without the market. In response, both Lago and Barbieri said they could show their numbers to prove it.
While Richman had trouble believing business numbers went down during the Farmers’ Market, Mayor Velazquez had trouble believing Management Services Director Mike Chambless’ numbers on what the city spends to host the event.
“You’re telling me with 22 events it’s costing us $4,000 total?” Velazquez asked. “To bring the tractors out to lift the barricades into place, have our staff organize all of that, bring the sign controls and so on, bring it back to the yard and sweep, and we’re doing that for 200 bucks [per market]?”
Later in the meeting, Velazquez said he was shocked the city did not have true costs for the event. City Manager Bill Avera asked Velazquez to recall when the city provided the recovery costs of the Farmers’ Market, which he said took place three years ago.
“You said ‘Absolutely, that’s not important to me. It doesn’t matter what it costs to do a parade or a Farmers’ Market because we are doing this for the community.’ That is words from your mouth,” Avera said.
Velazquez responded that the city should do everything to help with events for the community, but that did not mean staff should not know how much is being spent.