With an empty 17th Street Farmers’ Market behind him, Timothy Christian sells apples from his table along Main Street. He is the sole vendor at the renovated market that cost $3.5 million to update and has been under construction for nearly three years.
“I’m disappointed with the city” on its handling of the restructured market, Christian said. “It’s destroyed my business. I’m a fifth-generation legacy vendor. My family has been here for over 50 years.”
Even now, the market is still not complete. The storage sheds still have raw siding, there are no new structures as promised for the vendors, and the market itself is empty.
The most recent development is that the city of Richmond decided to take back control of programming at the 17th Street Farmers’ Market, starting July 1.
The Enrichmond Foundation, a nonprofit, has been managing programming at the market since 2016 and assisting with events since 2012. It was responsible for bringing in such festivals as the Richmond Bacon Festival and the Kickin’ Chicken WingFest at the market.
“We brought 150,000-plus folks to the market over the past several years and helped keep it going during discussion and construction of the renovated market,” said John Sydnor, executive director of Enrichmond.
But Shockoe Bottom businesses began to see Enrichmond as a competing business that brought in beer trucks and outside food vendors that took away their foot traffic and sales.
Helen Emerson, vice president of the Shockoe Bottom Neighborhood Association and owner of Rosie Connolly’s Pub & Restaurant, said she is optimistic about the change.
“We were told the city has the money to finish the project. They promise it will be completed,” Emerson said.
Sharon L. Ebert, the new deputy chief administrative officer for economic and community development, confirmed that the sheds and lighting will be completed within the next week.
A few café tables and chairs — around four sets — were brought in by Enrichmond and placed around the market. But there are no other plans at this time for the chairs, benches and fire pits that were originally promised.
The city managed all aspects of the market until Enrichmond took over programming in 2016.
“The city believes it is more cost-effective and therefore in the best interests of the market and its tenants to assume control of the market,” said Jim Nolan, a spokesman for Mayor Levar Stoney.
In a written statement on the Enrichmond website, Sydnor said he’s proud of the nonprofit for the “strides achieved as the market came to life under our brief interlude in its long and storied history. We will watch from the sidelines as the next chapter begins with the City and Legacy vendors leading the charge.”
He also noted that Enrichmond is not in charge of the construction project at the market. The construction project is managed by the city.
Enrichmond will continue its work on the historic Evergreen and East End cemeteries and on TreeLab, a greenhouse project.
With the change in programming at the 17th Street Farmers’ Market, it is unclear whether the planned festivals for 2019 will be held there.
Organizers are still deciding whether the Richmond Bacon Festival, which is an Enrichmond event slated for June 9, will be held at the market.
Programming planned by Enrichmond for the spring and summer at the market recently started with special events like free yoga sessions every Wednesday evening.
“It’s great for the farmers market, but we see no business from it,” Emerson said. “We don’t see one person come in for a cocktail or a snack. The programming doesn’t match the neighborhood.”
Shockoe Bottom businesses said they would like to see more upscale events like a jazz festival or an art fair at the market, plus more family-friendly activities.
Emerson said Shockoe Bottom businesses have high hopes for the Richmond Night Market, an independently run program that brings music and vendors to the market the second Saturday of every month. The first Night Market was in April. The second Night Market is on Saturday.
Although they didn’t see any business from the first Night Market, Emerson said she hopes that will change when the restaurants have their patios out on the market, which is expected to start throughout the spring and summer.
Only one restaurant on the market, Hot Chick, has its outdoor patio area set up. The rest of the Shockoe Bottom businesses, like Rosie’s and Lulu’s, are waiting for permits for the patios to go through. Havana ’59 is still in the drawing stage of its outdoor patio. Emerson expects the Rosie’s patio will be out by the end of June.
A farmers market has returned every Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. with a handful of vendors selling fresh produce, fruits and vegetables, including Christian’s Produce.
But noticeably absent are the “sisters,” Rosa Fleming and Evelyn Luceal Allen, who were moved to the back of the market on Franklin Street when construction began and still haven’t been moved to the front of the market on Main Street.
They are waiting for a permanent structure they were promised in a prominent position with a roll-down top and an area for storage that could be locked.
“I’m too old [to be going back and forth],” said Fleming, 79. Her sister is 84. “We need to have some cover over us.”
Christian, the other legacy vendor, is 44. He has to carry his produce, tents and tables to the front corner of the market every day.
“It’s a lot more work for me now,” he said. “I have to carry it all down here. Then pack it up and carry it back out at the end of the day.”
During the construction, he moved to a temporary spot in front of Main Street Station. Roughly two weeks ago, Christian moved back to the front of the renovated market.
“I couldn’t wait any longer. I’m so behind on my bills. I had to get back out here,” he said. “And now I have to work twice as hard.”