City looking at options after Liberty Street Market closes

City looking at options after Liberty Street  Market closes
September 10
00:00 2015

The Liberty Street Market consists of two shelters on Liberty Street. This shot shows the structures before a fence was erected around them prior to the market’s opening last year. (Photos, file photos by Todd Luck)

After opening in October, vendors and customers dwindled

By Todd Luck

The Chronicle

The City of Winston-Salem is currently assessing what went wrong with the Liberty Street Market, which closed this summer.

The market, which consisted of two covered shelters built on a vacant lot the city owns at 1591 N. Liberty St., was shuttered after Mercedes Miller ended her company’s contract to run it for the city. Mercedes-Empowers Inc. is her company. It is widely believed the low response of the market was the reason for Miller using the 10-day escape clause to end the two-year contract. The shelters are currently only being used on Thursdays for food distribution by Second Harvest Food Bank. The City’s Business and Community Development Department oversees the market and is currently assessing its options for it. The market cost around $350,000 to design and build.

When the grand opening at the market was held in October, the market was packed with vendors. Lynette Fitzgerald, of Lyn’s Special Tees, who creates hand-crafted ladies’ clothing from T-shirts, said the opening drew a large crowd that purchased her clothes. She said it looked like everything would get bigger and better from there. But in her two subsequent times setting up there, she found much less traffic and participation. Like many other vendors, she decided to use other venues instead.

“The concept and what it could offer the community was a great idea,” she said. “I’m very, very surprised it’s not doing extremely well. I was looking forward to being on a waiting list to get in versus it being closed down.”

Ardella Fuiell-Salimia, The Bean Lady, who sells dried heirloom beans and food made from beans, set up weekly at the market because she believed in what it could do for the community. She said after a hopeful opening, participation dropped.

“As the weeks went on and the weather changed, as the season changed, it dwindled down,” she said.

The market was originally planned to be open Thursday-Saturday all year-round, but that didn’t happen. Even with a glass-enclosed shelter and vendors using the electrical outlets there for space heaters, it was still very cold in the winter. Fuiell-Salimia said there was a mutual decision between management and vendors to take a winter hiatus, starting in December and returning in April, because of the bitter cold and lack of customers. The hiatus, however, had its costs for the fledgling market.

“Those few months of not being open, I think the interest that had built up from the grand opening in October, I think it had dwindled by then,” said Fuiell-Salimia. “I think people went back to not knowing the market was there or that it was open or what we were even doing up there.”

She said days with special activities held there got good participation, but vendor participation and customers were still down.

One of the goals of the market was to bring fresh produce to the area. Fuiell-Salimia said before the hiatus, there was produce at the market, but after the break, the farmers didn’t return. She said one farmer came back twice, but that was it for fresh produce in the warmer months.

“It was a catch -22, the people would say they want the produce, we would get the farmers in there and the farmers were sitting all day and it’s not like the community was running over there buying the produce,” she said.

Fuiell-Salimia said the low turnout of vendors resulted in few customers. When she got the call that the market was closing in late June, she didn’t even have to ask why.

She said with so many vendors in the area already having found profitable markets and venues to set up at, the Liberty market had tough competition, but it could still be a great vendor venue. If given the right incentives, she said she’d try the market again if it reopens.

Artemus Peterson with Team B.A.M. (Becoming a Man) works with youth at Cleveland Avenue Homes, located behind the Liberty market. He said he was disappointed that produce from the community garden in Cleveland Avenue Homes didn’t make it to the market. He said there were plans to teach gardening to the youth there and have them sell the produce at the market.

“We were going to teach them the garden aspect of it, so they could learn how they could earn their own income,” he said.

Peterson was disappointed that market didn’t deliver what it promised. He also said the fence around it felt uninviting and put a barrier between it and the people who were supposed to use it.

Jim Shaw, former chairman of the now defunct Liberty Community Development Corporation, said when Ruben Gonzalez, the city’s now retired development project supervisor, approached him with the idea for the market, he thought it was going to be good for Liberty Street. Shaw originally believed Liberty CDC was going to run the market before Miller won a bid for it, and said he’d gotten so many calls from vendors at the time, that he had to turn them away. He said he was unsure why it didn’t work, but Liberty Street is the worse off for it.

“I wish it had stayed open, it was a good thing for the community,” he said.

Shaw has publicly said that a city official asked him if he was interested in running the market now, but he said he was no longer interested in operating it.

A voicemail left at Mercedes-Empowers Inc. was not returned before press time.


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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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