FALMOUTH – Main Street was so crowded this summer—to paraphrase a Yogi Berra-ism—nobody goes there anymore.
At least that is the phenomenon that the Falmouth Selectmen and local business leaders want to avoid by facing the traffic and congestion issues head on with some innovative ideas and more careful planning.
“This summer in July and August, the town was so crowded. Parking is like a nightmare,” Falmouth Selectman Mary Pat Flynn said. “It’s mostly weekends. It’s absolutely mind-boggling.”
She said the number of overlapping events scheduled was what caused the congestion.
One way selectmen are trying to deal with the issue involves a change to the town’s special events policy which was discussed at the November 4, 2013 meeting of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen.
Attention has focused on how any changes to the policy might affect the Falmouth Farmers Market, which runs Thursday afternoons from late spring to early fall at the small square of green known as Peg Noonan Park, which is on Main Street to the west of the Falmouth Public Library.
But there is also talk of parking garages and closing off roads as ways to deal with the town’s congestion.
Selectman Flynn said she and other selectmen noticed the traffic problems—and even got caught in them this summer, and they want to try to alleviate the congestion by the time next summer rolls around.
Farmers Market Move?
The special events policy allows organizations hold events on public property.
Organizers of the Falmouth Farmers Market are concerned they are being targeted by a change in policy and any changes could place them in a no man’s land away from the central location they’ve had since the market started six years ago.
Not at all, according to Falmouth Selectmen Mary Pat Flynn.
“The farmers market has never been singled out by the board at all,” Flynn said.
The events policy is really the tip of the iceberg on an issue that involves re-thinking Main Street when it comes to summer traffic and congestion, she said.
Frustration on the parking issue has even led Falmouth Chamber of Commerce President Jay Zavala to suggest what once may have been unthinkable: a raised parking garage in the Main Street area.
“On Main Street, parking is a challenge,” he said.
In the spirit of wanting all businesses to succeed, Zavala said, it is important that different possibilities are explored. One possibility, he said, is a “low profile parking facility in close proximity” to Main Street. He pointed out that the Steamship Authority is considering such a facility in Woods Hole.
The chamber is at one end of the large parking area that begins behind Peg Noonan Park and Zavala said he is well aware of the parking pressures in the summer. He said the market organizers need to stay open to the idea of considering other alternatives because of the congestion in the center of town.
As the economy has improved and Main Street has blossomed, Peg Noonan Park has been used for more and more summer events, from concerts to sales to festivals. The park’s bandstand is currently being rehabilitated and Department of Public Works staff are continually battling the challenges of keeping the green space green in the face of heavy summer use.
But Peg Noonan Park is not the only issue.
Flynn said the congestion on Main Street has gotten to the point that changes must be made. Under serious consideration, she said, is closing down Shore Street Extension, which is the block to the east of the library, and using that area as a second space for events so that Peg Noonan Park gets some relief.
The possibility of moving the market has generated an enormous amount of pro-market mail to selectmen. Pat Flynn said she has received 50 to 60 letters in favor of the market with many of them wanting the market to stay at Peg Noonan Park.
The issue had been scheduled for discussion at the last selectmen’s meeting on October 21.
Gadsby said she and other market organizers sat in the meeting for almost four hours waiting to speak when Selectman Chairman Brent Putnam abruptly adjourned the meeting, announcing that the alarm would go off at 11pm unless everyone had cleared out of the building.
‘People For Vegetables’
The market was started by the Falmouth Agricultural Commission in 2008 as a way to boost the profile and sustainability of the local farming industry. The AgCom put out a call for volunteers to help with the market and one of those was Patricia Gadsby of Woods Hole and New York City.
She now heads the board of the nonprofit entity that runs the Falmouth Farmers Market.
When the market first started, Ms. Gadsby busily set about promoting it. One of her ideas was to have a column in the local paper, similar to what the nonprofit pet adoption agency People for Cats has.
“We wanted to be ‘People for Vegetables,’” Gadsby said.
The first two years of the market went smoothly, but the third year, some Main Street business owners began grumbling that the farmer’s market was practicing unfair competition by selling similar wares without having to pay rent or overhead.
Ms. Gadsby said the market organizers sought to handle those criticisms by asking vendors not to stock items like small sandwiches and other lunch foods.
There has also been criticism that the market’s customers take up parking spaces. To address that complaint, Gadsby said market staff decided to watch customers to see how long the average person stayed at the market.
Their determination: ten minutes.
“Do we add to parking pressures? Yes, for ten minutes. The rest of the time, they go to other businesses on Main Street,” Gadsby said.
Ms. Gadsby noted that the mix of businesses on Main Street has changed as the area has gained in popularity. Instead of gift shops, there are more spas and restaurants she said. As a result, people stay in town longer and take up parking spaces for a longer period of time, thus, Ms. Gadsby said, the resulting shortage of parking.
“The town has not so much a market problem as a parking problem,” she said.
Gadsby said that in response to complaints about the market, selectmen last year shifted the market hours to 11 to 5 instead of 12 to 6. “”We noticed a drop off [in attendance] because of that,” she said.
Because set up hours were not moved accordingly, Gadsby said the organizers were “called on the carpet” for setting up too early the first day of the market.
She said the volunteers who run the market feel besieged.
“One of the problems is its very tiring to be volunteers in that kind of climate,” Gadsby said. “We’ve kind of almost lost faith in the fairness of this procedure.”
Gadsby said the new special events policy envisions events having an “incubation period” at Peg Noonan Park and after three years be moved elsewhere in town, like at Bigelow Marine Park on Scranton Avenue. The policy also states that no goods and services would trade hands at town-owned parcels Peg Noonan and town hall square.
Gadsby said she hoped the market would not be moved to Marine Park on Scranton Avenue.
“We’d be sad to be against Windfall Market. They support local farming. We have the same mission,” she said.
Selectman Flynn said another possibility being discussed is the green space in front of the Gus Canty Community Center.
But farmers market organizers do not want to move.
Citing accessibility, visibility, shade, grass and restrooms, Gadsby said, “Peg Noonan is ideally suited for a farmers market. That’s why we’re loathe to move.”
Gadsby said she and other market organizers have helped with the upkeep at Peg Noonan.
“We noticed it was shabby so we asked if we could help,” she said.
Beginning in 2011, Gadsby said, the group began doing landscaping work in the park, like clearing vines and watering grass. “This summer, I spent three hours a week watering,” she said.
This spring when it came time to aerate the grass, Department of Public Works staff was not available to aerate Peg Noonan, “so we rented an aerator from Taylor Rentals and did it ourselves.”
Flynn said members of the Falmouth Village Association have had concerns that the farmers market has become more of a vendors market.
“There have been questions about the vendors at the market and whether it has veered from a farmers market to something else,” Flynn said.
She pointed to the fact that there is a bakery on Main Street across from the market but the market sells bread from a competing bakery.
Gadsby said there are 15 to 20 vendors at each market and about 500 to 600 people stop by during the market’s peak days in summer. Among the local farmers are Carrie Richter of Peachtree Circle Farm and Daniel Silva of DaSilva Farms, who sells eggs and poultry, as well as local bakeries Pies a la Mode and White Lion Baking Company.
Besides being what Gadsby called “a huge tourist draw,” the market also has an educational mission. Mullen-Hall Elementary School students use the market as an open classroom, Gadsby said.
Both Selectman Flynn and Zavala from the chamber of commerce say considering some changes so everyone can succeed is key.
Flynn said she is “very much aware” of the market’s success.” “It’s a very, very frequented place and people love the farmer’s market,” she said.
The Farmer’s market is a member of the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce and Zavala, it “offers a very positive appeal to visitors and residents. I’m all in favor of Falmouth having one or more farmers markets in the growing season.”
But he said, “the current location is another separate issue. We want to make certain our residents and visitors get the maximum benefit. We’re interested in finding the best spot possible. There may be more than one.”
– Laura M. Reckford
It has been apparent for some time that limits need to be set on use of Town property. In the case of the Farmer’s market I haven’t heard or read any mention of exactly who the vendors are. Businesses that own or lease space on Main Street and have made a commitment to the Town ought to receive some preference over those who come and go and pay no taxes.
My own observations when visiting the farmers’ market on several occasions is that the majority of the vendors appear to be coming from off Cape. It is not even clear to me that all of the vendors are actually growing the produce they sell. many apparently make the rounds of markets throughout the Cape and southeast Massachusetts.
I think we need to support local farmers, and probably legitimate farmers from other towns on the Cape, but we ought not to be giving away a valuable town resource to enterprising entrepreneurs who skim off tourist dollars but give nothing back to the community.
So the question that needs to be answered is just who are these
vendors and where do they come from. My own observations suggest a hypothesis. Hard facts need to be the basis for assumptions and public policy.
Why not come to the Thanksgiving market, Ed, and talk to us market volunteers? We can tell you about the market’s history, and provide you with data about the market’s farmers and producers and their contributions to the community.
Falmouth Farmers’ Market
Thanksgiving Market, Tuesday November 26 from 11 am to 2 pm.
Peg Noonan Park, Main St,