-  New open-air market planned for May opening

If April showers bring May flowers, then the local market season can’t be far behind.

Come this spring, shoppers will have a choice in their hunt for farm-fresh produce, flowers and handmade arts and crafts.

In addition to the popular Gresham Farmers Market in the parking lot at Northwest Third Street and Miller Avenue, a second market — the Gresham Saturday Market — will open for its inaugural season Saturday, May 10, in the Kmart parking lot on Northwest Burnside Road and Eastman Parkway. by: OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO - Shoppers will find locally grown fruits and vegetables, flowers and handmade arts and crafts at the new Saturday Market, which is intended to complement the long-running Gresham Farmers Market in the downtown core area.

“This is an opportunity to offer a choice (in markets),” said Gary Dillon, spokesman for Gresham Saturday Market. “We have about 50 vendors so far, and the majority are new to the community. It will give people a lot of choices.”

The new market is not intended to compete with the Gresham Farmers Market, Dillon said. Instead, organizers hope the two venues will complement each other with a wider variety of goods and services for customers. The Gresham Saturday Market also hopes to alleviate an issue the Gresham Farmers Market has been plagued with for years — parking and access for customers of nearby businesses. Both have been a persistent problem for downtown merchants, as well as market vendors, as both interests have sought to serve their customers.

Though market management has worked hard over the years to mitigate the congestion, there’s no denying that Saturdays during market season pose a problem for customers of both the market and downtown businesses.

Dillon said locating the Saturday Market in an expansive and largely unused parking lot will provide not only higher visibility to potential customers, but also won’t disrupt surrounding businesses. by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Gresham Saturday Market organizers say a 2010 traffic study showed 50,000 vehicles pass through the intersection at Northwest Eastman Parkway and Burnside Road each day. The location at 440 N.W. Burnside Road was chosen because of ample parking and easier access for customers.

“The exposure to the public with something going on there, and easy access and parking, will benefit vendors,” Dillon said. “A traffic study done in 2010 counted 50,000 vehicles through that intersection each day. I feel strongly that the location can handle a large crowd.”

Dillon is a local veterinarian and former business owner who has sold his home-roasted coffees at the farmers market for more than five years. He’s an advocate of local markets and the entrepreneurship of individual vendors, but grew concerned when the focus of the farmers market’s leaders shifted from the good of the many to just a few, he said.

“Gresham Saturday Market LLC is a private venture,” Dillon wrote in a letter to prospective vendors. “The management team overseeing market operations will be free to operate as a business, without the complexity, the politics and restrictions of a membership nonprofit association.”

Dillon declined to say if vendors have left the Gresham Farmers Market to sign on with the new venture, except to say anyone is welcome if they meet the jury criteria and pay the application and booth fee.

by: OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO - The Gresham Farmers Market was established in 1986, following a nationwide trend by consumers for farm-to-table consumable goods. The market has been located on Northwest Third Street, between Miller and Main avenues, since 1999. Joining a nationwide trend

Founded in 1986, the Gresham Farmers Market was the brainchild of former Multnomah County Commissioner Polly Casterline. It was modeled to follow the trend of open-air public markets popping up nationwide, as consumers began to demand an up-close and personal relationship with those who grew their food.

Each Saturday, local farmers and growers could be found selling cucumbers, berries, lettuce and flowers from the beds of pickups in the parking lot of Gresham City Hall.

Over the next 12 years, the market struggled to find a permanent home. It bounced around to several locations until 1999, when it laid down roots on Northwest Third Street, between Miller and Main avenues.

Governed by a manager and volunteer board of directors, the Gresham Farmers Market thrived. It became a registered nonprofit organization, with vendors paying for membership in the market association.

Debra Lowry, who has provided berries and produce to the Gresham Farmers Market customers for 27 years, decided to change venues this spring, after calling last season a “disruptive and hostile environment.”

“The vending season of 2013 was difficult,” said Lowry, who served in various Farmers Market board positions for nearly 20 years. “The friendly-like atmosphere, which had prevailed for years, was absent. It’s my belief our mission and vision of the (Gresham Farmers Market) was clouded by management disputes.”

Lowry said a small group of vendors, intent on taking over management of the market, embarked on a mission of “lies and personal attacks” against board members, eventually expelling them. She added that with the current farmers market leadership unclear, her decision to move on “an easy one.”

“As a charter member of the GFM for over 27 years, having held numerous positions as well as serving as president and vice president, I do not take lightly leaving an organization that has had such impact in the life of my family and myself,” Lowry said. “I’ve come to accept that the Gresham Farmers Market we have all admired and supported is broken. I’m excited about the soon-to-open Gresham Saturday Market. With experienced management, ample parking spaces for our customers and great visibility, I know this, too, can be our marketplace.”

The Outlook made efforts to contact management of the Gresham Farmers Market for comment, but emails were not answered.

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