by Barbara Sherf
This is a story with a happy ending about how a pair of women activists, a native son, elected officials and the community banded together to save the revered Flourtown Farmers Market, relocating it into a historic building in the center of town.
In January, 14 vendors, most of whom had been together since 1986, were notified by their landlord that their leases would not be renewed at Chesney Commons in the 900 Block of Bethlehem Pike. Rumor had it that the CVS chain was looking to expand its store, and there was talk of installing a drive-through window for the pharmacy.
With some activism, the right developer, government leaders, and some serendipity, however, the new Flourtown Farmer’s Market opened with fanfare and an old-fashioned ribbon-cutting ceremony last Thursday in the former Springfield Hotel and, more recently, Sorella Rose Restaurant.
With Flourtown Coffee Company cups in hand, 40 or so individuals stood outside of the building at 8 a.m. to mark a new beginning for the market and a new use for the 88-year-old inn.
Longtime vendors, along with the owners of newly added local wine and baked goods stands, said the highly visible location in the heart of the retail district brought longtime customers along with a fresh set of faces in over Labor Day weekend.
While Montgomery County Commissioners Dr. Valerie Arkoosh and Josh Shapiro remarked about the community involvement they witnessed and their roles in helping secure economic development funds, behind the scenes fingers were pointing to two local women and their connections to Flourtown’s Brian Halligan that sealed the deal.
Upon hearing the news of the possible closure at the old location, Oreland resident Cathie Cashman and Erdenheim resident Christine Visco teamed up over beer at Halligan’s Pub, within walking distance of the Springfield Hotel.
Cashman was adamant that Springfield “would not lose this treasure,” and she put together a petition on Change.org that collected 1,000 signatures in 24 hours and 4,000 signatures overall. During the same time, Christine Visco used her skills as a social marketer to set up a Facebook page boasting 3,000 followers that got people talking.
Both women had some connections to Brian Halligan and learned that Halligan and his real estate firm were in the process of renovating the former hotel and tavern into high-end apartments on the upper floors. As fate would have it, Halligan was looking for new tenants for the first floor as a deal to place medical offices on the first floor fell through. And from there an idea was born.
Following the ceremony, Halligan, Visco and Cashman chatted about what can only be described as a perfect storm.
“Between the petition and social media and rallies, it became clear that we were not going to lose this piece of our history,” said Cashman, who is in sales by day. “We both knew the Halligan family and I thought this could be ‘Halligan’s Halo’ glowing farther along the Pike. We knew it would be a good fit for him and the community. The stars were aligned.”
Visco, who lived within walking distance of the old brick building signed that petition and became involved because she said she took the possible closure personally.
“It was more than fresh food,” she said. “My children had worked there. We knew the vendors by name. I knew I had the skills to effect change and as a community we got it done.”
“It just seemed like the perfect fit – Brian was already invested in the community,” Cashman chimed in as Halligan smiled and relived the events leading up to the opening.
“I guess everyone was in the right place at the right time,” Halligan said. “It’s been pretty amazing to have seen this process all take place and in the end work for everybody.”
After community meetings in Springfield Township, Montgomery County Commissioners came on board in terms of securing economic development loans to for added expenses, like extra land for parking, rezoning and outfitting the building for refrigerators, stoves and display cases.
In her remarks, Arkoosh, a Springfield Township resident and longtime customer of the market, talked about how it was really a grassroots effort.
“We didn’t do this – you all did,” Arkoosh said, as Shapiro nodded and clapped. “We facilitated in terms of making it work economically. But this is your victory.”
Springfield Commissioner Baird Standish echoed her comments.
“It was serendipitous,” he said. “Brian was looking for a tenant, and there was this whole group who banded together to make it happen. There was no one person, but it was a team effort with everyone in this together, noting that as a history buff he was pleased to see the historic building being used in a very public way.”
Vendors like Andrea Borowsky, owner of Beck’s Catering, is thrilled with the new space.
“It’s smaller, but it’s newer and brighter, and the space is much more efficient,” Borowsky said. “This is the complete opposite of the old market, and the reaction has been unbelievable. It’s been surreal. We’ve seen our regular customers but also a whole set of newbies. We nearly doubled our sales last weekend. We still have some work to do but our roots are planted here.”
Realtor Neil DiFranco and his daughter Amelia, 4, were chatting with longtime vendor Karla Salinas of Karla’s Kitchen about food and the new space.
“We walked here after dropping my other daughter off at the school bus,” he said – then, after eyeing the gourmet foods in the case, added, “Part of me thinks I’ll never have to cook again. We feel very fortunate to have this little gem in our backyard. It’s a great use of this space and it just feels right.”
Market hours are Thursday, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Go to www.theflourtownfarmersmarket.com for further information.
Flourtown storyteller Barbara Sherf can be reached at 215-990-9317 or by email at Barb@CommunicationsPro.com.