KINGSPORT - It has set up shop in various locations in the downtown area during the last 30 years. Now it's time for the Farmers Market to move into a place of its own, Mayor Dennis Phillips said this week.
"The Farmers Market is very unique and important to this community, and we do not need to be taking any chances on it going somewhere else," Phillips told the Kingsport Economic Development Board Tuesday.
"A parking lot is not ever going to be a permanent place for something as important to this community as the Farmers Market," he said.
The Farmers Market has been located for the past several years in the parking lot behind the Kingsport Public Library. It operates there on Saturdays and Wednesdays from April to October.
Over the years, the market has been moved to several downtown locations, including Commerce Street, Broad Street, and in the First Presbyterian Church parking lot.
The city has considered establishing a permanent location for the market over the years. But the need for such a facility has become more of a priority due to upcoming construction at the old AEP building. TriSummit Bank has acquired the building and plans to construct an addition to the facility. That project will take about one-third of the parking lot where the Farmers Market currently meets.
Phillips said the city is now looking for a site to establish a permanent Farmers Market. He hopes the new site will be ready to open by next spring.
In the meantime, Phillips said the city plans to work with the farmers if construction on the AEP building interferes with the market before the end of the season in late October.
"If that happens before October, we'll work with them so they can go down Clay Street and back up toward Broad. We'll expand it and work with them," Phillips said.
Jo Ann Mellons, president of the Farmers Market for the past three years, said a permanent facility will be welcomed by the farmers and their customers.
"It's been on Commerce Street, the Presbyterian Church parking lot, Broad Street, and now behind the library. It's confusing to people," Mellons said.
Mellons said she's visited permanent farmers markets in other communities. Some are equipped with open-air sheds, while others have enclosed spaces, and many have restrooms, electricity and running water.
"It makes it more comfortable for the farmers and the customers," Mellons said.
Despite not having a permanent place, the downtown Farmers Market has grown over the years. When Mellons got involved in 1996, just 10 or 15 farmers participated. Today, more than 60 farmers set up shop, operating under tents or out of the backs of pickup trucks.
"The market has exploded," Mellons said. "Not only do we help ourselves, we also help the merchants downtown" by bringing more people into the area.
The Farmers Market will hold a customer appreciation event from 9 to 11 a.m. this Saturday to celebrate the market's 30th anniversary. Free watermelon will be handed out at the event, which will coincide with Tomato Fest in Glen Bruce Park.