January 14, 2021
We will not be at the Seaport Market this week and probably not until mid February. Again, lack of help has played a hand in that decision. We will keep you posted on the Seaport status.
I know that many of you are Seaport Market goers so I will put in my two cents worth. Most people have heard by now that the inevitable has happened at the Seaport Market. We are being bumped for something more important than food (read that with disdain). In March we will be moved to “Pavilion22” two doors to the south end of the present market building until summer when we will be outside in some sort of tent in the middle of the parking lot immediately in front of the Market (I think…). If anyone wants to buy our nice post and beam pergola display let me know……it’s not much good to us now.:-(
In all honesty, I don’t think the tent will be any worse for sales than what we have endured the last couple of years provided that there is convenient, free parking (let’s face it; as Canadians we are all entitled to our free parking so if you want business success you had better provide it). There is a reason that businesses don’t generally operate outdoors or in tents. In a tent or outdoors our retail sales are at the mercy of the weather; yet another uncontrollable factor that gives us grey hair. Since our peak sales in 2012, sales had dropped by 40% by 2019. In 2020 sales were down to about 30% of 2012 (down 70%, which was to be expected). It’s our online store that has kept us in the black!
So….what happened with the Seaport? I am going to risk getting myself into hot water to give you my take on it. I was fairly involved with the initial development as a Halifax City Farmers Market and then Seaport Market board member.
The reason for wanting to have our own real estate as a farmers market co-op was quite simple. Without our own property we would continue to be kicked from one rat infested spot in the city to the next much as had been going on for the previous 250 years. Redevelopment of the old Keiths Brewery was in the cards and if we didn’t have another option it would have meant serious disruption and loss of revenue for all co-op members. At that time the plan from the owners of the old brewery was to put us in a car garage each Saturday. Not very appealing. Halifax does not have a history of supporting those that feed it and nothing has changed. We got a $1,000,000 grant from the city for the seaport project but after sifting through an audit done by the city after the market was in trouble I now realize they only gave us the money because they planned to get it back in short order in the form of tax. Many cities realize the value of such a public space to the city as a whole but apparently not Halifax. The Seaport Market got a $250K tax bill before we were even properly up and running.
The downward slide already began in 2007, two years before we even moved into our new spot. We, as a co-op were invested to the point where backing out and starting over would mean that we wouldn’t have our own place anytime in the near future. A number of eleventh hour changes and demands from the Port Authority and a web of demands from various backers started to back us into a corner and drive costs up. Even so, I believe that if we had stuck together as a co-op we would have been OK. The nail in the coffin was when a number of our co-op members decided that they wouldn’t go with us to the new site but opted to stay behind at the old location. They thought they were being smart but I maintain that they were being extremely self centred.
We can argue all day about whether the facility was too extravagant or not but one only needs to look at what the big retailers spend and it doesn’t seem quite so outrageous. Hindsight is easy, if we had spent less we might still be owners. Much of the grant money we received brought strings, conditions and politics that also pushed up the costs and “extravagance".
It wasn’t long before the co-op couldn’t pay its bills and went bankrupt costing lenders millions and, worst of all, many long time, supportive customers many thousands of dollars in CEDIF investments. To this day the losses incurred by many of our best customers is what bothers me the most. It certainly did damage to our image as farmers market vendors. It’s hard to say how much impact it has had on sales since then but it surely didn’t help the situation.
From then until now there has been a constant erosion of customer traffic (tourists are lousy customers for farmers so they don’t count) resulting from an over saturation of farmers markets in NS (in 2019 there were more than 40!) and less than stellar management of the market by the port authority (everyone says it; I’m just putting it in print).
So here we are in January 2021.
The Seaport Market is an uncertainty.
The Forum Market is open again (and there are major renovations planned that, to my knowledge, don’t work for a farmers market….here we go again).
We have a growing online store.
Wolfville 2Go is doing well.
Our farm gate wholesale is strong.
There are many appreciative Mexicans and Jamaicans who will continue to work to better their lot in life and ours as well…..one of the most satisfying things about our farm.
Pretty soon we will have a robot or two to pull weeds (it’s a shame that no one will be able to feel the satisfaction of looking back at a weed free field anymore….seriously).
We are working on more value added food products that will greatly reduce food waste and give us shelf stable products to sell (when you are used to selling produce that lasts maybe a week that is a dream come true)
Suzanne and I get to watch our kids grow up and continue what we, and two generations before us, have worked so hard on for so long.
It’s not going to happen overnight or be easy but we will continue to reinvent ourselves and stay relevant.
Keep eating your veggies!