TRAVERSE CITY — Depending on who one asks, some Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market vendors are being pushed aside for the upcoming Ironman 70.3 competition — or every seller is being set up for a potential windfall.
Farmer’s market vendors are speaking out over plans to move some vendors on Aug. 24 as organizers for the swim-bike-run race need space for a bicycle staging area. Some market vendors worry the change could hurt the farmers during an important peak-season weekend.
Tricia Phelps, the farmer’s market advisory board chairwoman, said Ironman will encroach on part of the farmer’s market space. The board didn’t want the market displaced from the spot best known to its customers. So instead the farmer’s market will close Cass Street between Grandview Parkway and East Front Street so vendors can set up there, she said.
“We thought it was really important that we stay where we were and try to shift and make a compromise there,” she said.
John Dindia, who co-owns Lakeview Hill Farm with Bailey Samp, said the decision left him feeling like market vendors were disrespected and being pushed aside yet again. He and Samp both stressed they’re not against Ironman coming to town, but they’ve seen how sales sag when the market moves for the National Cherry Festival.
Samp said she doesn’t think her and Dindia’s spot at the market will have to move Aug. 24, but she fears the vendors who do could see a dip in sales.
The fruits and vegetables vendors sell have a short shelf-life, and farmers already have crops in the ground in anticipation of selling them on Aug. 24, Dindia said. Bad sales could force some vendors to dump what they don’t sell, he said.
“That’s a big loss if we have to throw product away, that costs us a lot of money,” he said.
Dindia and Samp said they believed farmer’s market advisory board members did their best but could’ve communicated plans better — Phelps said the board notified sellers June 17, as soon as negotiations wrapped.
Dindia’s and Samp’s sentiments echoed those in a July 1 letter sent to the Downtown Development Authority, which organizes the market, city commissioners and Traverse City Tourism — the organization serving as the Ironman 70.3 event host.
Sixteen vendors — including at least one that sells Wednesdays only and therefore wouldn’t be impacted — signed the letter.
Ocanas Farm co-owner Carmen Ocanas wasn’t among those who signed, and said she wasn’t aware of how Ironman’s set-up plans would impact the Aug. 24 farmer’s market. She has been a vendor since 1980, and said she didn’t want to move from her current spot.
“I want to be in the same spot that I’ve been for years,” she said.
Nick Viox, DDA project and communications coordinator, said the advisory board heard those concerns — some members will be impacted by the move. But they understood events happen in the city and want to learn as much as they can from this one to guide future decisions, Viox said.
It’s not an ideal situation, Viox said. Those who have to move are getting a free booth on Aug. 24 as a concession.
Traverse City Tourism President Trevor Tkach said the Saturday in question could turn out to be a great day for farmer’s market vendors. He was left scratching his head by the concerns in the letter, as he sees the 2,500 athletes and their families coming through the area as a captive market, he said.
“My observation is, this is a huge opportunity with a lot of people with a lot of money who believe in health and wellness who are coming through a farmer’s market,” he said.
Samp said it’s possible Aug. 24 could go really well for vendors, but she just doesn’t know.
A tight schedule rules out setting up after the farmer’s market, as vendors suggested in their letter, Tkach said.
He acknowledged the change does present challenges, and Traverse City Tourism will spend up to $2,000 to promote the Aug. 24 market, he said. The organization also will ensure athletes know about the farmer’s market.
There’s more: Ironman also is working with SEEDS, the nonprofit involved in managing the farmer’s market, to get fruit from farmer’s market vendors for athletes who come to Traverse City, said Ironman Midwest Regional Director Frank Lowery.
The Aug. 25 race will be Traverse City’s first Ironman 70.3, with another set for 2020.
The farmer’s market advisory board will look at how vendors were financially impacted during the competition, Phelps said.
Event organizers will review this year’s activities to determine how to make improvements next year, Tkach said.
Both Lowery and Tkach said the idea is to work the farmer’s market into the event, not push it aside.
Tkach said he’s seen how well that can work at Madison, Wisconsin’s Ironman, although he acknowledged that message of partnership hasn’t gotten through to some farmer’s market vendors.
“I think we’re kind of in a situation where I’m hoping as these vendors learn more about what really is happening, they’re going to see this as a real positive and not a negative and they’ll change their minds and feelings about it,” he said.