by Barbara Sherf
Sales were brisk at the Flourtown Farmer’s Market this past weekend, as emails and social media alerts swirled regarding the market’s last weekend in operation at its current location before most vendors move into a new home at 1800 Bethlehem Pike in August.
At one point, the fate of the dozen small businesses seemed in peril, but residents and elected officials worked together and were able to find a new location and secure a low-interest loan to retrofit the space that formerly housed the former Springfield Hotel and Sorella Rose Restaurant owned by businessman Brian Halligan.
Halligan could not be reached over the weekend for comment.
The market opened in 1986 and employs about 100 people. It’s open only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but many customers plan their weeks around it and do as much of their shopping there as possible.
When vendors received a letter from landlord Greg Bushu regarding the end of their leases in Chesney Commons, which also houses a dry cleaners and the CVS drugstore, residents gathered more than 3,000 signatures opposing the closure of the market.
Many went a step further to boycott CVS, as it appears the chain is seeking to expand into the market space and add a drive-through pharmacy. To date, CVS representatives have gone on record as saying they have not entered into any agreement to purchase the property.
Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, a Montgomery County Commissioner and Springfield Township resident, noted that she and her fellow commissioners approved a $125,000 loan, matched by the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority and administered through the Montgomery County Development Corporation to help native son Brian Halligan make improvements to his historic building, making it feasible for the vendors to relocate there.
“There was a proper vetting process, and I’m so pleased the money was able to fill in this very important piece of the puzzle enabling family-run small businesses who did not have a lot of capital to move into that location,” said Arkoosh, noting that she has shopped at the market since 1997. “The move saved between 50 and 60 jobs and will keep those businesses in this community.”
The vendors of the bakery and sushi booths were not on hand for the closing weekend, and the worker at Flourtown Seafood Market would not comment on their status.
“I’m sorry to see the closed booths,” said Dr. Beatrice Salter, who has frequented the market for more than 20 years. “I was so accustomed to just walking here from my office and I loved the fresh seafood.”
Flourtown resident Jane Anderson was getting some fresh shrimp and also commented on the closing of the seafood stand.
“I like it here,” she said. “Everything is fresh, not frozen, and it’s worth every penny. I’m sad they aren’t making the move, but we will be at the new location to support the other vendors.”
Andrea Borowsky , owner of Beck’s Catering, who has been in the market for over a decade, she described herself as “elated” with the change.
“I feel like I’m being transplanted like a tree,” said the effusive Borowsky, who credited Flourtown resident Christine Visco, a nearby resident, for being among the concerned residents who took up the cause of saving the institution. “I’ve grown here and now I’m being balled and burlapped and look forward to making my way down to 1800 Bethlehem Pike.”
“It’s been surreal,” said Visco, a resident of Chesney Lane and founder of PJ’s & Coffee Social Media Marketing. She was asking shoppers to sign up to get on the email list for the date of the official grand opening , tentatively slated for Friday, Aug. 6 “But you know how that goes. It’s still under construction so we need to keep folks informed.”
Visco said she and her children, who are now grown and held summer jobs at the market, took news of the closing personally.
“This is personal for me,” she said, pointing to Rory and Darcy’s nearby stand filled with ribs, rotisserie chicken, fresh salads and orange juice. “I did not want to see this sense of community destroyed, and I knew we had the skills to turn things around. I don’t get poultry anywhere but Dave’s Poultry, and look at this fresh-made orange juice with 25 oranges squeezed per bottle.”
Visco and her staff created a “Save the Market” social media campaign when it looked like the vendors had nowhere to go and was instrumental in recruiting Halligan to look at using the space at 1800 Bethlehem Pike for a farmer’s market.
Chestnut Hill resident Hack Wilson was all smiles as longtime customers approached him at this stand, just off the main entrance.
“This is a win-win for the public in that we all worked together to turn a bad situation into a good one for everyone involved,” said Wilson, co-owner with Dara Gordon, of The Cheese Trap in both the Flourtown and Chestnut Hill Farmer’s Markets. “In my opinion this space was a bit tired, so to be revitalized and in the center of Flourtown is a positive move in my mind.”
Hamid Radfar, owner of The Pasta Stand since the brick building housing the market opened in 1986, said he is excited about moving into the new location.
“We have a place to go,” he said. “Yes, I’ll miss this place. I’ve spent half of my life here, but I still have the business, and I look forward to the new place. All of my customers have been very supportive.
One of his customers, George Sinkler, of Glenside, joked about how much weight he might lose over the next few weeks without the pasta and looked at the move philosophically.
“Change is inevitable,” Sinkler said. “You can’t fight it. I hope the new place has the same wonderful feel. I’m glad it will have the same wonderful pasta.”
Franklin Avenue resident Ann Ryan walked to the market as she typically does.
“I’m happy to see they found a new home, but also sad to see the bakery is gone,” she said. “I’m really sad the bakery is gone. I’ve walked here for over 20 years, and will walk a little farther to the new location. I wish them all well.”
Flourtown resident William Mayer said he will miss what he considers a convenient location.
“I think the new location will be more congested and I don’t think sleepy Flourtown needs a mega CVS,” he said. “I hate to see local businesses lose jobs to the big guys.”