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Village Merchants Discuss Farmers Market's Future

Raw Inspiration is being considered as the new Westwood Village Farmers Market operator.

Whether it’s the location, the time, or day of the week, when it comes to the Westwood Village Farmers Market, most merchants agree something needs to change.

Village merchants came together last week at meetings hosted by the Westwood Village Improvement Association (WVIA) to talk about the market’s future, which is currently in flux as the WVIA considers new market manager Raw Inspiration.

"I question why we need this market," said Mark Collons, Westwood Village orthodontic practice owner. "I’m wondering if the intrusion of the market is more of a problem than a benefit. … You’ve got to face that we may not need it anymore."

Other merchants debated the market’s current Broxton location, a busy section of the Village that's often packed on Thursdays, when the market is in full swing.

"This market is all wrong for Broxton," said Philip Gabriel, Scrubs Unlimited owner.

Gabriel said he frequently tells customers to stay away from his store on Thursdays because of Village congestion and lack of parking.

"I think it’s ridiculous I have to tell my customers 'don’t come in' on a Thursday," he said.

Others agreed, suggesting the market move to a different location that wouldn’t negatively impact Village businesses.

Parking also was a shared concern among merchants who said vendors and market visitors often steal parking away from store customers.

"(The market) invades our parking lot," Suzanne Herskovic, of Bel Air Camera, said.

WVIA Executive Director Andrew Thomas said terms could be included in the Raw Inspiration contract regarding parking to ensure vendors don’t take up space at local businesses.

Ken Hall, of BJ's, was one of the few merchants in attendance to say the market had a positive impact on his business.

"I don’t look at it as hurting my business," he said. "The market brings in new clientele."

Market proponents cited its ability to bring an energy, or buzz, to Westwood, but some questioned the resulting price paid by local businesses.

"[If you’re] enlivening the streets and you’re … hurting the merchants, what is the purpose of the market?" said Steve Sann, chair of the Westwood Community Council, who added the market "in a way is parasitic to the Village."

The WVIA District Issues Committee in late September voted to begin contract negotiations with Raw Inspiration.

Longtime market manager Steve Whipple chose not to respond to a Request for Proposal (RFP) solicited by the WVIA in May, leaving Raw Inspiration as the only respondent.

The potential change in management has become controversial, some arguing longtime manager Whipple is building a successful market, while others insist a change would lift up a hurting market.

"(Whipple) is caring, he’s responsive, he listens, he wants to do the right thing. …  I think we need to work with Steve Whipple," Jon Vogel, of Village Eyes Optometry, said.

David Friedman, of Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers, worried about what would happen if Raw Inspiration moved in as operator.

"I don’t think it will be the right fit for the Village," he said.

WVIA board members will not discuss the farmers market at their monthly meeting Thursday, Thomas said in an email.

"It's important to take all of the feedback and input we received at the two merchant meetings and factor it in to a final recommendation to the Board," he said. "We are close, but not quite there yet."

The issue will hopefully be brought up again at the group's November meeting, he said.

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This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 24, 2012

An article on Oct. 16 about two merchant meetings held to discuss the Westwood Village Farmers Market misspelled the names of two merchants. It is Jon Vogel, not John; and Mark Collons, not Hollands.

Diane SALTZBURG November 13, 2012 at 06:18 AM
the obvious problem is the lack of parking in Westwood - businesses vs farmers market. If Raw Inspiration wants to tackle the farmers market, what is the problem? I really don't know - Raw has a great track record, experience, I am sure they would make positive suggestions for location, parking, days of operation - who would know better? and, if you didn't agree, take it completely off the agenda for Westwood. There must be other ideas that would improve Westwood. Parking, parking, parking - diane saltzburg

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