With spring here, many Wallingfordians are wondering what’s going on with the farmers market. The short answer: The market will begin its fifth year on Wednesday, May 19, in the south section of the Wallingford Center parking lot (see map, below). Beyond that, things get a little complicated.
What’s Changing at Wallingford Center?
We talked to Wallingford Center building manager Amy Singer, who said that Wallingford Center has attracted more and more tenants over the past few years, and it can’t offer as much of its parking lot as it has before. The new area stretches the entire southern length of the parking lot, but is still a smaller square footage than in earlier years. She told us that Lorig Associates, which owns the historic site, supports the farmers market and donates the parking lot and plaza spaces on the center’s west side for its use, but that building merchants also need to have parking space available to their customers.
Market organizer Jon Hegeman (who also started the farmers markets in Fremont, Ballard and Madrona) stressed to us that changes in market configurations and locations are normal. “Wallingford Center management has never been anything but wonderful to the farmers market,” he said.
The south section of the Wallingford Center parking lot will accommodate approximately 24 spaces, an adequate number when the market opens in May. But later in the season, more vendors will want to join, Chamber of Commerce president Kara Ceriello told us (the Chamber organizes and sponsors the farmers market). What to do then? The solution, she said, is to let the market grow onto the parking lane on Wallingford Avenue between N. 44th and N. 45th streets, which would allow for more vendors and bring the market up to N. 45th Street, where it can be seen easily.
In this scenario, car traffic would still use Wallingford Avenue and bicycle fences would be set up behind the vendors. Vendors would load in sequentially, like stacking blocks, Hegeman said. He pointed out that the availability of Wallingford Center’s plaza right next to Wallingford Avenue helps create a “natural nexus.”
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is considering this proposal, and the health of the farmer’s market at Wallingford Center hangs on that decision. “We want SDOT to help this community grow its farmer’s market. This has to happen,” Ceriello told us.
The Wallingford Farmers Market: Red = where the market has been located in the past; Green=where the market will open this year; Yellow=the plaza area, available for performances and community gathering; Orange=the proposed Wallingford Avenue parking lane annex; Blue=next year and beyond? See interactive map.
The Interlake Option
SDOT continues to examine the Wallingford Avenue parking lane option. In the meantime, Ceriello, Hegeman and others in the Wallingford and farmers market organizations tried to find alternate spaces for the market. They said the best option was an L-shape configuration from Interlake Ave./N. 45th St. to Stone Way/N. 46th St. Hegeman said, “It’s ideal the for city and ourselves. It offers the opportunity for expansion and growth and would give us the town square atmosphere.”
If the market did move to the Interlake location, the transition wouldn’t happen until late June because the market wouldn’t yet need the extra space. Ceriello noted that some businesses and residents in this proposed location oppose such a move because it would limit customers’ access and could create too much noise. Plus, neither she nor Hegeman liked the idea of having to reeducate the public about the market’s location. Ceriello said, “The farmer’s market is going to happen, but if it can’t expand on Wallingford Avenue, it’s going to move in the middle of it, which is kind of like starting over in some ways.”
What About Next Year?
All these machinations just apply to the market this year. What might the future have in store? Ceriello said the Interlake location is a possibility for next year’s market, which could stay on Wednesday or move to Saturday. Hegeman told us about his ideal scenario for 2011 and beyond: A Saturday farmers market on Wallingford Avenue between N. 44th and N. 45th streets, with a street closure, and the Wallingford Center plaza as a performance/open space. He plans to poll vendors this season about switching from Wednesdays to Saturdays to create more of a destination market.
For market-goers, Hegeman explained, “Wednesdays are hard because of schedule conflicts, it just becomes an impossible addition to people’s routine.” He’s aware that many people go to the University Farmers Market on Saturdays and said, “What could happen is that the residential base in Wallingford will come to their home market on Saturday. We have about 22,000 people in 1.5-mile radius from center of Wallingford. I think if people had a strollable market in the center of town they’d make that part of their Saturday routine.”
The combination of a Wallingford Avenue market plus the Wallingford Center plaza for music, kids, and community activity is perfect, Hegeman said, then added, “To have a community nucleus is the holy grail of markets.”
Ceriello also favors the idea of a destination Saturday market for the local businesses and the community. She told us that some businesses on Ballard Avenue who originally opposed the Sunday market there have come to appreciate it. She also said that anyone who wants to know more about the market or has comments is welcome to email her at the Chamber of Commerce. Or, of course, you can leave your comments below.