CRANFORD – A handful of downtown business owners fear the comeback of the weekly farmers market has already put a sizeable dent in customer parking and could continue to chase away much needed business dollars.
The market, which restarted July 10 after being absent for several years, consists of approximately seven vendors in tents set up in Municipal Parking lot 1 adjacent to the firehouse.
The lot, at the corner of North Union Avenue and Springfield Avenue, when not used for the market, has a large number of parking spaces, but not all are earmarked for public parking.
Many of the space are usually reserved for permit parking or firehouse employees.
According to town officials, there should not be an issue because parking was rearranged so firehouse employees will not be parking in the lot but in back of the municipal building so customers frequenting businesses downtown would not be inconvenienced.
However, business owners claim that despite this there is not enough parking for both farmers market patrons and those wishing to shop downtown.
“I’m not against the farmers market but this is going to run every Thursday from now until Oct. 30 and I put a lot of money into my business,” said Donna Del Guercio, owner of Belladonna’s Yarn Room and Interiors at 106 North Union Avenue.
Del Guercio said opening the store was a life-long dream and building clientele is critical to her business thriving.
“If people can’t find parking close to my store, they will just give up and go somewhere else,” the business owner told LocalSource Friday, the day after the farmers market.
“Customers want to park close to where they shop, not a block away off Miln Street where they have to walk a good distance,” the business owner said, adding that frustration began to mount when township officials involved with putting on the market “brushed off our concerns.”
Another business owner expressed concern because the parking lot is blocked off at 7 a.m. even though the farmers market does not start until 2 p.m. She said elderly clients come early in the morning and want to park close to her shop, not more than a block away.
“They need to move the farmers market to the train station lot or somewhere where it won’t interfere with downtown shoppers. Our concerns should matter but no one consulted us or thought to include business owners in the planning of this market,” a business owner said.
Del Guercio and the other business owners said they attended several meetings with other business owners to express their concern about parking but at both a Downtown Management Corporation meeting and Cranford Community Connection meeting last month the problem was not resolved.
“They just brushed us off,” the business owner said, asking “where’s the loyalty?”
Several other business owners also expressed concern about the farmers market taking place on a Thursday when stores downtown are open in the evening.
“Thursday is usually a good day, but with people going out to eat at restaurants downtown and others pulling into the lot to go to the farmers market, there are no spaces left for our customers,” said a downtown business owner who preferred their name not be used.
“Is Cranford business friendly or do they care more about out of town vendors who are only here for a few months?” said another business owner who frankly admitted his business would take a hit if downtown foot traffic came to a halt on Thursdays.
On Monday morning LocalSource spoke with business owners in the vicinity of parking lot 1 and many indicated their customers have not complained about the parking situation on Thursdays.
Others, while concerned, said they felt the township was trying to deal with the situation and they “preferred not to make a big deal over a minor issue.”
According to Township Committee member Mary O’Connor, who is involved with Cranford Community Connection, a newly formed committee that brings together members from different organizations to promote community spirit and involvement, the problem of parking was addressed and continues to be addressed.
Among the groups involved with Cranford Community Connection are the Downtown Management Committee, Chamber of Commerce, Centennial Village Group and Among Our Elements, all of which, she said, have residents and business owners’ best interests at heart.
“What we did to alleviate any potential parking issue was to ask permit parking holders to park elsewhere and firehouse employees to park in back of the municipal building,” said the governing body member, adding that business owners also had permit parking in this particular lot but they also were asked to park in other municipal lots while the farmers market is ongoing.
“We have been monitoring the parking situation and will make adjustments as needed but so far there have been at least four parking spaces open all the time during the market,” O’Connor added, noting that she is down there around 4:30 p.m. when the farmers market is starting to get busier and has not seen any parking issues surface.
The township committee also passed a resolution after the start of the farmers market to allow free 3-hour shopper parking in municipal lot 1 on Thursdays from 2 to 6 p.m. This went into effect July 17 and will continue through October.
O’Connor also was confused when she heard several business owners felt their concerns were not heard at the DMC and Community Connections meetings.
“I think we have listened and been supportive of our business owners,” she said, pointing out that on Monday she personally met with several downtown business owners and gave her word that parking adjustments would be made if need be.
“Parking is not an issue. I have spoken with the police department and they did not feel there were any problems in lot 1,” O’Connor said.
The governing body member said the farmers market began a kickoff of sorts leading up to other events this summer and fall, including a Police and Fire Cook-off, antique car shows, live music and other promotions that will highlight the market and Mayor Andy Kalnin’s wellness campaign.
“The intent of the farmers market is not only to provide a service to our residents,” said O’Connor, “but also to help generate foot traffic in our downtown business district, especially during the slow summer months. Metered parking is plentiful on the street, and at our other nearby municipal lots.”
O’Connor said that logistically the farmers market cannot be relocated at this point because the vendors involved have contracts that must be honored.
“One thing our township administrator Terrance Wall asked business owners is if they wanted people to perceive that business owners were fighting the farmers market,” said the governing body member, adding “don’t get me wrong, we have great business owners and stores, but we all have to work together to ensure any problem is resolved.”
Wall said late last week that the entire layout of lot 1 was changed to accommodate both farmers market vendors and shoppers.
“The market only takes up a small portion of the lot and we have done everything to ensure shoppers have access to parking,” he said.
The resurgence of the farmers market has been very successful, according to O’Connor and Wall, who mentioned that vendors feature New Jersey farm fresh produce, along with pickles, fresh cheeses and a variety of other goods.
Participating New Jersey farmers include Melick’s Town Farm and Peaceful Valley Orchard, Hoboken Farms Specialty Foods and Patricia and Paul’s Oils.