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BID to Continue Contract Talks With Proposed Farmers Market Operator

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

The Westwood Business Improvement District (BID) moved one step closer Thursday to resolving a controversial Westwood Village Farmers Market management issue.

The District Issues Committee voted to begin contract negotiations with market operator Raw Inspiration, the only respondent to a Request for Proposal (RFP) solicited by the Westwood Village Improvement Association (WVIA) in May.

Longtime manager Steve Whipple chose not to respond, saying during a BID Board of Directors meeting last week that he felt the market was headed "in the right direction and the RFP did not really acknowledge that."

He’s since expressed interest in working with the BID to maintain his role as operator, however, committee members were focused Thursday on working with Raw Inspiration.

"Unfortunately, we don’t have two [RFP] responses … we only have one response at this point," Jessica Dabney, board chair, said. "[We will] work with the sole responder to nail down a contract."

See also: New Management Likely for Westwood Village Farmers Market

Gail Friedman, Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers owner, was worried some merchandise sold at the farmers market would hurt local merchants’ business.

"We love the farmers market in the Village, but we also need to maintain a business in the Village," she said, urging more communication between the BID and Westwood Village merchants. The BID will hold a meeting with Westwood Village merchants to discuss the farmers market next week.

WVIA staff agreed to hammer out, among other issues, competition language in the Raw Inspiration contract so local businesses are protected.

"We have to walk a fine line between having a farmers market that works and having merchants that thrive," Dabney said. "We need both of those things to thrive."

Committee members also agreed the proposed market under Raw Inspiration should be produce-focused, with some suggesting the market consist of 60 percent agricultural items and 40 percent non-agricultural, such as handmade items.

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Some said the current farmers market under Whipple’s management did not offer enough produce.

"Now I see more of everything except produce," Westwood resident Roxanne Stern said. "As a consumer, I’m disappointed."

Another sticking point in the contract is its term length. Both Raw Inspiration President John Edwards and Whipple have expressed dissatisfaction with a one-year contract proposal. The committee came up with a proposed solution, which would include a first year’s term to go through December 2013, to be followed by three, one-year options, after which the market operator would have a chance to manage the market for another four years.

Dabney opposed Edwards’ previous request to hold the street closure permit, which is currently in the hands of the BID, saying giving up the permit would mean a loss of power to "dictate the terms upon which (Raw Inspiration) operate(s) the market."

Whipple supporters spoke out about the proposed change in market management, most insisting the market’s performance is on its way up.

"Is (Whipple) doing a perfect job … no," Steve Sann said. "[But] I think the market is going in a good direction. … Let’s go with the guy who’s already built up some momentum."

One vendor said Whipple should be given more time to build up the market.

"I feel strongly that (Whipple) should continue because of all the hard work he’s put into it," Sara Partovi said. "The fair thing to do would be to have him continue and prove he can build a market."

Some said they wouldn’t support the market under Raw Inspiration’s management.

"I don’t want to be a part of this farmers market if Raw Inspiration is going to be the one controlling it," Emmanuel Vazquez, a manager at the Westwood market, said.

The issue will again be brought before the full board at the group's next scheduled monthly meeting at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 18 at Skylight Gardens, 1139 Glendon Ave.

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