In the face of opposition from some community members and local merchants, market operator Raw Inspiration has pulled out of the running to manage the Westwood Village Farmers Market, leaving its future unclear as the Westwood BID considers next steps.
The Westwood Village Improvement Association (WVIA) was in contract talks with Raw Inspiration, the only respondent to a Request for Proposal (RFP) solicited by the WVIA in May, when it received word the operator was withdrawing its proposal to run the farmers market.
An email sent to WVIA Executive Director Andrew Thomas from Raw Inspiration President John Edwards on Oct. 14 announced the operator’s request to no longer be considered for the management position at the Westwood Village market.
Edwards cited a previous conversation with Steve Sann, chair of the Westwood Community Council, which took place Oct. 14 at a farmers market in Brentwood, run by Raw Inspiration. In the email he described Sann's "clear threat" to "get community members to protest at the (Westwood Village) market with banners and placards" if Raw Inspiration was chosen as manager.
"I took seriously Mr. Sann’s threat that he would organize a protest at a market operated by Raw Inspiration," Edwards said in the email. "I will not put my vendors in any economic or physical jeopardy."
Sann said he did not threaten a protest, but told Edwards that Westwood Village merchants would not support a market similar to Brentwood’s, which he said was full of prepared foods, baked goods and retail items.
"This email is filled with misstatements and complete misrepresentations," Sann said. "I don’t agree with it at all."
Concern expressed by Village merchants about the farmers market’s impact on local business also led to Edwards’ decision to withdraw his proposal.
"Merchants are worried. … I think they should be listened to," he said. "I think (a market) could help the merchants in Westwood, [but] clearly some merchants don’t see it that way."
The question of who will run the Village market has become a thorny issue, some arguing longtime manager Steve Whipple was building a successful market, while others insist a change in management would lift up a hurting market. Others have questioned whether a farmers market is a good thing for Westwood, pointing to examples of direct competition with local businesses.
Raw Inspiration might submit another proposal in the future, Edwards said, but only "if there’s support for (a market)."
The operator currently runs more than 20 markets throughout Los Angeles, including one in Century City.
"This is a very sad conclusion to all the work my staff has done in preparing our proposal," Edwards said in his email to Thomas.
The WVIA will now consider next steps for the market, which could include re-evaluating its time and place, looking for another operator, continuing with current management, shutting down the market, or a combination of these possibilities.
Sann said any new action taken by the WVIA should be "thoughtful, well informed, and sensitive to the concerns of the brick and mortar stores and businesses" in the Village.
"I am very disappointed in the events that led to Raw Inspiration withdrawing its proposal from consideration," Thomas said in an email. "Our board and subcommittee have spent over a year on this process, and staff has logged well over 100 hours working to deliver the vision of the WVIA and our community. To have this important work sidelined is very disconcerting."
The WVIA District Issues Committee will discuss the market’s future at a Nov. 1 meeting, which will be held at 8:30 a.m. at 10880 Wilshire Blvd.
What action do you think the BID should take regarding the farmers market's future? Tell us in the comments section below.