Harbor District Market not an indoor farmers market

Published 12:04 am Monday, September 18, 2017


As the market manager at the Harbor District Farmers & Artisans Market, occurring every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon at the corner of East Main and Bonner streets, I get asked questions about the upcoming Harbor District Market. Like me, people are truly excited about our downtown having a public market to support small business entrepreneurs, encourage direct to consumer sales and showcase the talent and knowledge of our regional farmers and makers. But there are those few who ask, “Why should we move the farmers market indoors? Doesn’t that ruin the whole feel of a farmers market? Is this what the farmers want?” Allow me to answer those questions here and provide some clarification.

The existing weekly Farmers & Artisans Market is NOT the same thing as the Harbor District Market. On the simplest level, it’s easy to confuse the two. The goal isn’t to move everyone who participates in the open-air Saturday market indoors. The goal is to create an entirely new public market designed to bring business downtown on an ongoing basis. The Harbor District Market will not replace the open-air weekly market. Of course, any of the farmers or artisans you see on Saturdays will be welcome to participate — certainly not required. We do, however, plan to ensure the two support each other.

To further distinguish the difference, public markets typically feature shops and vendors that are almost exclusively small and independent businesses — open seven days a week. There are plenty of these markets scattered around the country. An example would be Delaware’s Riverfront Market in Wilmington, located in a historic warehouse along the Christina River. The Riverfront Market is open Mondays through Saturdays and features vendors selling everything from seafood to gourmet snacks. It is completely separate and different from the nearly dozen farmers markets coexisting in Wilmington.

For-profit shopping centers — abandoned for malls, which are now being abandoned in favor of newly developed town centers — take business away from historic downtowns like Washington. Non-profit public markets bring people downtown. That’s why nearly all markets (public, farmers or otherwise) are developed and operated by a non-profit 501(c)3 organization consisting of a cross-section of board members who donate their time and very few to no employees. In our case, the Washington Harbor District Alliance (WHDA) is that non-profit. The Harbor District Market is not a project of the City of Washington or Beaufort County, although both the local governments support the effort.

Farmers and public markets are developed and funded by volunteers and donors with no financial stake other than a passion to see small business owners and local growers and makers succeed; and desire for new life breathed into underutilized downtown buildings. When these small businesses succeed, we can reverse the effects big chain stores, which squeeze as much money as possible from the hand that grows the food, have had on our downtown. And, if you can’t see the difference between a public market and a “grocery store,” well, I can’t help you there.

Still not convinced? Check out this article from Small Business Trends, an award-winning online publication for small business owners, entrepreneurs and the people who interact with them, “The Best Public Market In Every State” (https://smallbiztrends.com/2017/07/public-market.html) for more examples of public indoor markets and outdoor open-air markets co-existing to mutual benefit.

Still have questions? Email or call me. We are a transparent group of citizens, both young and old, who want to see our downtown, and our farmers, thrive.

Susan Sizemore is the 2017 Harbor District Farmers & Artisans market manager and a local small business owner. She can be reached via whdafarmersmarket@gmail.com or 252-947-1487.