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LO farmers market survey shows potential for local businesses

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO Jamie Inglis, of the Lake Oswego Parks & Recreation Department, shows the survey she prepares for the Lake Oswego Farmers’ Market. The recent survey on local business gave merchants reason for optimism.

The Lake Oswego Farmers' Market is great for Lake Oswego.

But is it great for business in downtown Lake Oswego?

Not yet. However, a recent survey taken by the Farmers' Market shows that the thousands of people who flock to the market every Saturday have a high opinion of Lake Oswego businesses.

Now the task is to convert that positive feedback into better business for local merchants.

'Based on this survey, people are spending time shopping and dining in downtown Lake Oswego,' said Maddie Ovenell, Farmers' Market manager. 'The survey was our way to gauge if the Farmers' Market is bringing other people downtown.'

The survey was a simple dot survey on an easel placed next to the vending booth for Upper Crust Bakery. A Lake Oswego Rotary Club member passed out the dots and Farmers' Market patrons were very willing to put them to good use.

In addition to the dots, Ovenell said, 'We had a lot of great conversations at the boards.'

Kathy Kern Schilling, director of special events for the city of Lake Oswego, delivered the good news to Laura Adler, owner of Bernard C's Chocolates and leader of the downtown marketing committee for the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce.

'I sent it to Laura right off the bat, and she shares it with the other businesses,' Schilling said. 'Our goal is to get them to work with us.'

For Schilling, the survey proves 'if you throw a party in Lake Oswego, people will come.'

Ovenell added, 'We've got enough here for folks to do.'

The survey was welcome news to downtown business owners anxious to turn Saturdays into a big shopping day.

'The Farmers' Market is such a phenomenon,' said Suzie Regan, owner of Tucci Restaurant. 'It's like the golden slippers of Lake Oswego.'

But from a downtown business standpoint, the Farmers' Market has been a disappointment.

'People park all around us, then go straight to the Farmers' Market,' Regan said.

'They go get their vegetables and fruit and then drive home,' said Carol Winston, owner of Accessories From the Heart.

Yet Regan and Winston both believe the Farmers' Market has the potential to be a great asset to business owners.

'When I think of the Farmers' Market I think of 8,000 people coming here on a Saturday,' Winston said. 'Our responsibility is to get those people into our stores.

'I embrace the Farmers' Market and see it as a big opportunity.'

Regan believes closer cooperation between businesses and the city could bring great improvement.

'We haven't coordinated well with the city,' she said. 'Our efforts should all be together, especially since the city heads up the downtown marketing and the Farmers' Market.'

Where to start? Regan thinks having a table at Millennium Plaza Park on Saturdays would be an excellent beginning.

'It hasn't happened yet,' Regan said. 'We would really like just a table with maps.'

Winston said, 'It is frustrating when you have sufficient interest but you can't get the venue to take advantage of it.'

However, recent developments have been encouraging, including the committee led by city economic development director Jane Blackstone.

'Jane's committee gives us a seat at the table with the parks and recreation department,' Winston said. 'Kathy, Maddie and Jane give us the synergy for bringing people together so we can be helpful to each other.'

The new policy of city/business togetherness was responsible for a special event on July 9. On this Saturday business owners put on a 'downtown open house' to welcome market goers and promote their products.

'The businesses were out front,' said Regan, who was on hand to serve free lemonade on the hot day. 'It was really well received and so appreciated. It showed that Lake Oswego is more than just a Saturday market.'

'I don't usually work on Saturday, but when I came I saw how important it is for business people to be out on the street,' Winston said. 'Our table was very simple. We had balloons and table drapes, and I had some wonderful conversations with people.'

The time seems ripe to turn those people into shoppers.

'The traffic is increasing. We're glad to get people at our door,' Winston said. 'Now it's up to us to get them to come in.'