by Lou Mancinelli

Vendors at the Chestnut Hill Farmers’ Market are worried their businesses will suffer greatly and perhaps ultimately fail if forced to compete with the North Carolina-based Fresh Market at the former Magarity Chevrolet site, they said in separate interviews with the Local Friday afternoon.

The proposed construction is part of the Bowman Properties development proposal for 8200 Germantown Ave., revealed last spring. A few community residents who spoke to the Local on the Avenue echoed the comments we heard inside the market. They said the current scale of the project is too big, but, in large part, were in favor of a scaled-back proposal.

Jim Ranck owner of Ranck's Meats at the Chestnut Hill Farmers Market is confident that Farners Market merchants can survive if and when a Fresh Market grocery store is built right across Germantown Avenue. (Photo by Len Lear)

In addition to the grocery store, development plans include an additional retail location  and the construction of 14 condominiums on top of the building to create a five-story, 60-foot-high structure. In all, the project would bring 6,500 square feet of new retail space to the Avenue.  Current designs also include the construction of nine $1million townhomes on Shawnee Street, across from Pastorius Park.

Farmers’ Market merchants said they were worried that their small independent stores will be unable to compete with the lower prices offered by a large market. The collection of privately-owned stands offers fresh cuisine and groceries from Thursday through Saturday each week. It features authentic Trinidadian, Mexican and Middle Eastern food, among others.

While owners fear their businesses will be hurt initially if the Fresh Market opens, they said they are hopeful loyal customers will return to the Farmers’ Market, located at 8229 Germantown Ave. to support the family-owned shops and the type of business relationships with customers they offer.

“I can’t imagine how a bigger market going there is not going to hurt us,” said Claudette Campbell, owner of Calypso, the recently expanded Trinidadian eatery. “Eventually it’s gonna be our demise.”

Campbell said people who are unaccustomed to ethnic flavors, might try prepared food at the Fresh Market and think it is great and find no need to cross the street and visit the Farmers’ Market.

“I’d rather it wouldn’t come, because it could hurt the business,” said Twyla Weaver, co-owner of Neidermyer’s Poultry. Weaver and her husband, Travis, purchased the stand six months ago.

“I think it might affect us in the beginning, but we have a strong customer base.”

Other Farmers Market vendors wondered how the Market would fit Chestnut Hill.

“In my opinion I see Chestnut Hill as more of a quaint atmosphere,” said Beverly Loux, who with her husband, Ron, owns Poppy Seeds Bakery.

“Although people say it will bring more people to the area,” Loux said, “I think it will also detract from the small quaint mom-and-pop type store.”
Steve Rice, owner of Rice’s Meats for the last six years was more certain about his feelings.

“We don’t want ’em here,” he said. “Farmers’ Markets are dying out because they are not open too many days a week. I hate to see them die out. The idea about Farmers’ Markets is the food is fresh. The animals were killed this week. Who knows how old the stuff is in the supermarket.”
But not all the market merchants were worried.

Longtime market mainstay Jim Ranck, owner of Ranck’s Meats, who has operated his fresh meat and poultry counter in the Farmers’ Market for 28 years, thinks the competition might be good for the Farmers Market.

“I think it’s going to be the best thing to happen to Chestnut Hill in a long, long time,” Ranck said. “I think it will bring people in for food and shopping that have never been to Chestnut Hill before.”

“It’s gonna be our responsibility as fellow merchants to attract new people to come across the street and experience what the rest of Chestnut Hill has experienced for the past 28 years,” he said.

He said the business at the market slowed when Weaver’s Way opened, and it will slow again if, and when, Fresh Market opens. But once the novelty wears off, it will be back to “survival of the fittest – a lot of places have come and gone [in here] over the years.”

While a few local residents who talked to the Local  were not against the Bowman proposal, they did not offer their full support.

“I want the design to be coherent with Chestnut Hill architecture,” said Meghan Anderson as she walked along the Avenue.

“In general, I feel like [the Fresh Market is] not something that needs to be here,” said Sam Biddle, who was raised in the area. “We already have the Superfresh and Co-op.”

“I think it’s too big,” said Marjorie Little, a 20-year resident of the 8300 block of Shawnee Street, as she shopped inside the Farmers’ Market Friday. “It’s too tall.”

While Little, who has attended a few of the community meetings about the issue, praised the people from Bowman Properties for designing what she said were some beautiful developments, she said she thinks the current proposal needs to be scaled-back. She credited the developer and the CHCA for their attention to the civic process, and working with the community to determine a suitable plan.

“I think people are trying operate in good faith,” Little said. “Everyone realizes it isn’t good for Chestnut Hill to have vacant lot. The spirit of the meetings has not been no development. It’s been this is too big, it’s too much.”

“It is what it is,”  Campbell said. “For us to make it we will have to work three times as hard.”