On every summer Wednesday until Sept. 26, the Hollister Downtown Association hosts its Certified Farmers Market on San Benito Street between Fourth and Seventh streets. With plenty of food trucks, farm fresh produce, music and a smattering of informational booths, it keeps the downtown buzzing. For some businesses, however, the farmers market has not produced a bumper crop.
“It has been horrible; it has taken business away from us,” said Hollister House owner Jack Barbieri. “They come in around noon and shut down the downtown, so it kills our lunch and dinner business.”
The Hollister Downtown Association is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to revitalize downtown Hollister and to make it a hub for social and economic activity. The stated objective of the market is “to encourage community members and visitors alike to experience
downtown Hollister and purchase farm-fresh produce and local products in a fun and safe, family-friendly atmosphere.”
To Barbieri, the market has depressed his economic vitality. Vendors at the market rent 10-by-10-foot stalls. Downtown business owners can rent the space in front of their store for $20, half off the regular weekly rate, with the $40 application fee waived.
“I’m not allowed to serve food there; why would I do that?” Barbieri said. “They’re blocking up my business, and they said they couldn’t change it. I told them I would not renew my membership in downtown association next year.”
Barbieri added, “They told me to send out fliers advertising my food at half price. I said, ‘You’re killing my business; now you want me to give it away?’”
As far as the Hollister Downtown Association is concerned, the farmers market has been a success, but they acknowledge it’s hard to please everybody. Association president Daniel Recht said businesses can capitalize on the foot traffic generated by the market.
“When I was a business owner in downtown Hollister, foot traffic was everything,” Recht added.
In a few months, Recht expects the downtown association to host a forum to help iron out issues with business owners.
Besides the discounted vendor stalls, businesses are also allowed to put out sandwich boards during the market, which is normally not allowed in the downtown.
“If you’re not able to do the legwork to attract the thousands of people who come to the market to your business, you’re not doing a very good job,” said the market manager Tammy Renz. “Moving the market (away from the downtown) to the Target parking lot or the airport is not viable. There would be no foot traffic.”
The feeling that the market hurts downtown business is not universal. Johnnie’s Girl co-owner Patty Marfia said the market has given her store more exposure, which has helped her business.
“We like any opportunity to participate in anything going on downtown because it’s all good for us I think,” said Marfia. “I understand some of the negativity, and how it affects the businesses downtown if there is somebody plopped in front of you that is doing something similar to you inside.”
For Marfia, the best way to approach the farmers market was to embrace and participate in the event. For her, it’s an investment.
“When we didn’t participate In that way, people didn’t see us, and they didn’t acknowledge we were here because of the vehicles parked by the curb,” Marfia said. “I decided, sometimes you need to spend money to make money.”