Farmers’ market too slow during the week: vendors

With more than 250 vendors selling local products, the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market may be one of the city’s most lively spots on a Saturday morning.

But some vendors are frustrated with the lack of customers they see on other days of the week.

“I find that a lot of people in Halifax don’t even know there’s a market here,” says Stella Thomas, who sells Antiguan cuisine.

From Friday to Sunday she’s been selling food, such as jerk chicken and curried goat, since the market’s new waterfront building opened in 2010.

“You’ll find it slows down this time every year, but it seems to be a bit slower than usual,” she says.

Thomas thinks the market’s operators could do more to make Haligonians aware the venue is open Tuesday to Sunday every week.

“I think with a promotional scheme for students, maybe we could get them to come to the market on a regular basis,” says Thomas.

“That’s a whole lot of people,” she adds.

Barbara Mulrooney, who helps run Julien’s Pastries, sells baked goods every weekend.

She says she spent most of her time reading the newspaper last Sunday.

She describes Fridays as “the pits.”

Bill Wood, also known as “The Lamb Man,” says more vendors should work multiple days during the week, other than Saturdays.

For him, this could help attract more customers.

“The market’s success boils down to more marketing and more vendors that won’t cherry-pick and just come in on Saturdays.”

Lane Farguson, communications advisor for the Halifax Port Authority, says the executive staff is open to any sort of idea or promotion vendors may have that would drive people to the market more often.

Prior to the market’s move to its waterfront location, it was located at the Alexander Keith’s Brewery Building on Lower Water Street.

Mulrooney says that back then, she was happier with the sense of community and the customers that the location attracted.

“At the old market, I used to have a line up every Saturday at 6:30 a.m. Because of the building, it had camaraderie. It’s totally different from this one.”

In the spring of 2012, the Nova Scotia Farmers’ Market Development Cooperative and the City Market of Halifax Cooperative Ltd. were facing $9 million in debt from construction.

They decided to hand their lease over to the Halifax Port Authority.

Since then, Mulrooney says business became worse for her and some other vendors.

Last June, the authority said it planned to spend $2.7 million to renovate the market over the next three years.

Mulrooney says the Halifax Port Authority should invest more money in promotions and marketing, rather than renovations.

“We didn’t necessarily focus on renovations for the sake of renovating,” says Julie Chiasson, the market’s executive director.

“For the most part, it was that the customer experience was not pleasant and we knew that because our customers told us so.”

Like Thomas, Mulrooney suggests creating special deals for university students.

“Every September, when university starts, they should have a special for students that won’t cost the mangers anything.”

“Students have money,” Mulrooney adds.

“Things like that don’t take a lot of brainpower,” she adds.

The Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market looking rather empty on a Sunday afternoon. (Photos: Paul O’Brien)
The Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market looking rather empty on a Sunday afternoon. (Photos: Paul O’Brien)

Farguson says vendors are more than welcome to engage in marketing strategies.

“Julie (Chiasson)’s door is always open… Anybody who has an idea is more than encouraged to bring it forward and open up that discussion,” he says.

Chiasson says it’s more strategic when the market staff and vendors are working together for a common purpose.

“We’re uniquely set up with our website that gets really great traffic and our own social media,” she says.

“(The market’s executive staff and vendors) cross-promote each other and it works best for both to be kind of going at the same time. We really prefer that partnership role.”

She says the market’s website lists each vendor, including links to their personal websites where customers can find more information about their businesses.

“We certainly encourage vendors to get involved in those free platforms like social media because the reality is nobody is going to do a better job of promoting their business than they will,” says Farguson.

“We’re more than happy to take their material and retweet it through our channels as well.”

Barbara Mulrooney has been a vendor for 28 years. (Photo: Paul O'Brien)
Barbara Mulrooney has been a vendor for 28 years. (Photo: Paul O’Brien)