by Kevin Dicciani
The Springfield Township Board of Commissioners held a special meeting on Jan. 29 to discuss the planned closure of the Flourtown Farmers Market, discovering that an overwhelming majority of the residents and vendors were highly disappointed – and surprised – upon hearing of the eventual departure of the neighborhood gem.
President James Dailey said the Board of Commissioners wanted to conduct an “informal workshop meeting on the subject,” given that there has been much dialogue revolving around the closure throughout the neighborhood and on social media.
According to Dailey the plan to close the Flourtown Farmers Market, which has been in operation since 1986, was a “private business decision made by the building’s owner,” Greg Bushu.
On Jan. 21, vendors received a letter from Bushu that said the market would be closing in July, much to their shock. The notice said that vendors must be off the premises by July 18, and all of their equipment and property gone by Aug. 6. The decision, ultimately, will affect between 80-100 people.
Almost all of the vendors in attendance said they were completely caught off guard by the news. Dave Grove, owner of Dave’s Poultry, said that the vendors were on a month-to-month lease for a 10-to-12 year period, where “everything seemed stable.” Then, the eviction letter came.
“We were kind of blindsided,” Grove said.
Grove said the vendors are still unaware of the actual reasons the Farmers Market will close. He said the reasons Bushu gave were “ambiguous.”
Greg Bushu could not be reached for comment.
Grove asked the Board of Commissioners for further clarification: “Are we being evicted? Are we being evicted and the building is going to be vacant? Are we being evicted and someone else is going to take over? Are we being evicted and CVS is going to take over the whole building?”
“We’ve heard so many rumors it’s not even funny,” Grove said. “All we know is, come July, we’re being evicted.”
One rumor that was discussed at the meeting pertained to CVS buying the property and expanding it, including an added drive-through pharmacy. Although residents and vendors have reached out to CVS, they have not heard anything back from them, or Bushu, concerning the fate of the property. For everyone involved at this time, much still remains unknown.
The Board of Commissioners remain in the dark as well. Dailey said the board currently doesn’t know what the plans are for the building, or if CVS is even involved, and as such it cannot discuss actions for or against the corporation, nor is it legally permitted to do so, on private business matters.
Some members of the crowd urged the board to try and take some sort of actions – writing a letter, calling representatives, etc. – to combat CVS, but Commissioner Peter Wilson said the ability the board has in swaying legal, private business matters is not as powerful as some may think.
“We have very, very limited resources and ability to really push back,” Wilson said. “The push has to come from you – the neighbors, the community at large, all the merchants – but it has to come from you, and it has to, I think, be massive if you are going to get CVS’ attention.”
Commissioner Jeffrey Harbison followed up by saying that “legally, to stop it, there’s almost nothing we can do.”
Looking ahead, Grove said that he and the vendors have had discussions about the future plans, with a general consensus being reached that the vendors “get out of there and relocate, or get out of there and split up.”
Dailey asked if the hopes of the vendors at this time are to stay together.
“As many as possible,” Grove said, while other vendors simultaneously voiced their support for staying together and moving on.
“We’ve had our businesses under the same roof for so long,” one resident said. “I, speaking for myself, knowing we are evicted – I am looking forward to the future.”
One resident mentioned that the Flourtown Farmers Market is more than just another business in the area. She said that small businesses, in this day and age, are a valuable piece of a small town, and she hopes decisions are made based on the community’s wants and not the “bottom line.”
“We value the small businesses, we value the relationships of all the people that are in the market,” she said. “We’ve had our children involved with them, and they know our children, and there’s something to be said about what that means in the definition of where you live. And we’re losing it in this world, I’m sorry to say.”
Wilson said there wasn’t a person in the room that didn’t understand the value the farmers market brings not just to the businesses, but to the community and its shoppers.
“We value the institutions,” he said.
Brian Halligan, owner of The Springfield Inn at 1800 Bethlehem Pike, said he is interested in using his property for the relocation of the farmers market. He said he has been meeting with vendors and has been doing all he can do to assure the transition period goes smoothly.
In order to make the move possible, Halligan said he would need to get zoning relief to switch his property from office use to retail use. He said his application for the relief would be submitted and would appear on February’s agenda. Having already spoke with vendors, architects and his general contractor, Halligan said they would to do everything needed to assure that there would be no lapse in the farmers markets’ business, saying that he hoped the move to be complete by Jun. 1.
“My job is to make this move possible,” Halligan said. “As the potential landlord, how can I help with these costs and build this out efficiently and make a brand-new market out of this, keep what we have – this valuable farmers market – together in Flourtown.”
To rally more support, Andrea Borowsky, of Beck’s Catering, said that on Saturday, Feb. 7, there will be a special ‘Save the Farmers Market Day’ at the market. It’s just another way, she said, of the community coming together to support their own. For now, all the vendors can do is take the steps needed to secure their place in Flourtown after July – which, one said, they want to be “right at the heart of” for many years to come.
“We’re lifers there. Most of us have been in that farmers market for 20 years plus and would love to continue staying in and serving this community,” Borowsky said. “All we want is a happy ending.”