The Pinecrest farmer’s market will operate under new management starting Nov. 3, and some vendors are concerned about the changes that will follow.
The market runs year-round on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and sells goods from handmade soaps and candles to organic dog food. It attracts about 2,000 people per week during the busiest season, from December through April.
The market is now switching hands from The Market Company Inc. (TMCI) to The Green Market Co-op, a non-profit organization created by Gigi Gimenez and Susan Muci, who have been vendors at the market for the past two years.
The co-op is requiring that all vendors have insurance, use biodegradable bags, pay booth rent in advance and use a shuttle bus to travel from the parking lot at Pinecrest Elementary School, 10250 SW 57th Ave., to Pinecrest Gardens, 11000 S. Red Rd.
“It started very reasonable, now it’s ridiculous,” said Floyd “Flip” Camp of Flip’s Country Kettle Corn, who has been a vendor at Pinecrest for four years. “They’re price-gouging everybody.”
The feud can be traced to the city’s decision in 2012 to raise the rent it charged to TMCI from $1,000 to $1,400 per week. The village says it raised the rent because the number of vendors had grown from the 40 allowed under the contract to 65. But the company passed the village’s rent increase to vendors, who complained to the village. The Village Council responded by seeking a new management company.
The co-op agreed to pay the higher rent and to lower the vendors’ rent.
While TMCI charged $80 to $100, the co-op is charging $60 in November, $75 in December through April and $45 in May through October. They also said produce vendors will be charged only $25 year-round.
But the co-op generated new complaints from vendors. For one thing, the new organization was short on cash and asked vendors to pay their rent in advance.
“We are $22,000 short after giving the produce vendors that discount,’ said Gimenez, who started the co-op with Muci this summer.
Yet vendors like Flip don’t like the idea of paying in advance.
“Don’t come to me and say ‘I got the bid, but I need money,’ and then say that the spot I want, I have to pay for in advance,” he said.
Other vendors don’t like the new insurance and biodegradable-bag requirements
Bob Kasselakis has been selling Greek gyros with his wife Fotini at the market for three years. He said they are not returning because of the new rules.
“We have nothing against the new management. It’s good to have some rules, but with too many, we cannot work,” he said, referring to the biodegradable bags he must purchase and the shuttle bus he needs to take. “If Pinecrest finds someone else, we will stay, but for the new people, we are not going to return.”
Gimenez said vendors can buy bags in bulk to save on shipping costs, and the cost of the shuttle will be included in the rent.
“We’ll work with you, except from what is law and what’s in our contract,” she said, adding that all vendors — particularly produce vendors who have never needed insurance under TMCI – must be insured.
Gimenez said she is willing to work with the vendors to help keep them at the market.
“We’re only trying to do good here,” she said. “Anybody could have stepped up, and not many people did.”
Flip said his wife wrote a proposal to be hired as a city employee solely to coordinate the market.
And Jerry Sanchez of Jerry’s Here Farm Fresh — the market’s largest produce vendor, who has vended every Sunday since it began at Gardner’s Market when it was still in Pinecrest, more than 10 years ago — submitted a proposal but it was not accepted because it was turned in late.
Carlos Fernandez of the Coconut Grove Farms sells produce and grass-fed beef, and he said he doesn’t think the new co-op is being realistic.
Fernandez lost $4,000 this summer because of days the market shut down due to heavy rains. Sometimes, TMCI gave rain discounts, but as a brand new organization with little money to start with, the co-op will not be able to do so.
Cindy Rich, a Pinecrest resident and customer of the market, said she thinks the village should operate the market to alleviate the extra costs to the vendors.
“It’s like having a middle man in between,” Rich said. “What I want to see happen is just more for the people and by the people.”
Village Manager Yocelyn Galiano Gomez said “the village did consider the in-house option. The only reason we didn’t go with it was because traditionally we contract out to keep staff at a minimum. That’s just our business model.”
The village will take in nearly $70,000 this year from the co-op’s weekly fee. The revenue the farmer’s market brings offsets only a small portion of the $1.5 million cost of maintaining Pinecrest Gardens, according to Galiano Gomez.
Not all vendors are upset with the changes.
Zak the Baker has been selling bread at the market for a year and a half and he said he’s not concerned at all.
“In the beginning there are all these new rules,” he said. “It will be back to the same thing once the rhetoric is over.”
Gimenez and Muci said they just want a chance.
“What the market needs right now is a moment of peace to get itself on its feet,” said Gimenez. “Give us a chance to at least have our first day.”