Three years after the controversial decision that drove the Turlock Certified Farmers Market out of its longtime downtown home and divided the community, the market is returning home.
The Turlock City Council was met with applause on Tuesday after approving a request for the weekly seasonal event to return to its original Main Street venue.
The Council voted 4-0, with Councilmember Becky Arellano absent from the vote, to approve a Special Event Permit application that will close the east end of Main Street in the downtown corridor to for a Saturday morning market from May 4 through Sept. 28. The application was filed with the City of Turlock by TCFM Board President Brandon Follett, who said he felt “grateful” following the Council’s decision.
“We’ve had this overwhelming consensus that all of the businesses were on board with us coming back downtown, and we’re excited for the opportunity to have it there again,” Follett said. “It’s really good timing because we’re in our 10th season, so we’ll be gearing up now quickly to get it started.”
Since the 2016 season, TCFM has held its market at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds. The move came following a contentious debate surrounding who would run the downtown market when both TCFM and Golden State Farmers Market Association applied for competing street closure requests. Up until that time, TCFM had operated a market downtown for six years but ultimately chose to withdraw its request and seek a different location: the fairgrounds.
As TCFM concluded its third season at the fairgrounds in 2018, vendors pointed out the two weeks they spent downtown selling goods while the fair was in town as a bright spot in an otherwise dismal season. Follett described these two weeks as a “trial” run for 2019 to the Council on Tuesday, and following the positive feedback the TCFM Board received during that time, he and fellow Board member Jeani Ferrari continued to meet with downtown business owners to see if the market could possibly return downtown for good this year, receiving a positive response from 30 businesses surveyed.
Downtown business owners had reason to be wary, with many reporting drops in sales when the Golden State Farmers Market Association operated its market downtown before ultimately moving to Central Park.
According to Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association Executive Director Molly Amant, the businesses are welcoming TCFM back with open arms. It’s unclear if the GSFMA, rebranded as the Central Park Evening Market and held on Thursday nights, will operate for the 2019 season.
“With the last market, I’m not sure if it was just because of all the politics around it, but people just didn’t come downtown during that market. So, of course the business owners became concerned and that’s when the issues were brought to the Council,” Amant said. “That didn’t really come up this year. I think TCFM has proven that they’re able to bring the people downtown and have a loyal following, so we’re just excited to have them back.”
TCFM vendor Kiley Keas of loose-leaf tea company Tealey Tea was a first-year participant in the market in 2018 and is looking forward to the move downtown, she said. While she found success both at the fairgrounds and during the market’s two-week stint downtown last year, she said the differences between the two venues were noticeable.
“I made way more money when we were on Main Street, and I noticed almost everyone had a La Mo cup in their hand, drinking coffee and were just happy to be downtown,” Keas said. “It made me realize how different it was downtown; it was easily accessible for people and they knew where we were, and at the fairgrounds we were in more of a hidden location where not a lot of people came that way.”
There will be costs associated with the market returning to Main Street and closing the streets, which will be mitigated by TCFM providing labor and equipment to implement the City-approved temporary traffic control plan, which City-staff will oversee.
With the City Council’s approval on Tuesday, the Turlock Certified Farmers Market will return to downtown Turlock May 4, setting up shop from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Main Street, between Palm Street and Center Street.
“Welcome back,” Mayor Amy Bublak told vendors and TCFM Board members at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “We’ll see you out there.”