Friday, April 20

Store owners concerned about Westwood Farmers Market location

Negotiations to change the management of the Westwood Village Farmers Market have been put on the back burner, after local community members raised concerns about the market’s location.

In a meeting with the Westwood Business Improvement District on Thursday, local store owners said they felt the committee, which oversees business operations in Westwood, should prioritize changing the market’s location instead of changing its management.

The market is set up every Thursday on Broxton Avenue, between Kinross and Weyburn avenues.

“Changing (management) shouldn’t even be talked about at the moment until another location is selected,” said Gail Friedman, co-owner of Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers on Westwood Boulevard.

The Westwood Business Improvement District started searching for a new management company to operate the Westwood Farmers Market as part of an effort to offer a wider variety of produce and attract more customers, the Daily Bruin reported last month.

Raw Inspiration, a large farmers market operator with over 20 locations in Los Angeles County, was the only company to express interest in taking over the market. However, they did not receive backing from local merchants and rescinded its proposal to manage the market about two weeks ago, said Andrew Thomas, executive director of the Westwood Village Improvement Association, which works with the Business Improvement District to manage the area.

“We felt that there was a misunderstanding between the district and the merchants,” said John Edwards, president of Raw Inspiration.

“We feel that there is more time needed for these issues between the (district) and merchants to be worked out.”

Steve Sann, chair of the Westwood Community Council, said many local store owners have seen a decline in business when the market is open.

“One fundamental issue is unfair competition,” Sann said.

“Market vendors can afford to undersell merchants because they have none of the overhead costs that brick-and-mortar stores do, like rent and utilities.”

Friedman said she has noticed that a lot of customers drive around in search for parking and eventually leave.

Although a few members at the meeting said the market should be removed from Westwood altogether, many contend that a change in location and times of operation would be sufficient, Sann said.

After last week’s meeting, the improvement association board instructed its staff to start exploring alternate locations, Thomas said.

A location change, however, is only one part of the problem, Sann said.

He added that in addition to a change in location and the market’s time of operation, he feels the market should shift its focus towards offering a wider variety of produce and agricultural goods.

A 75-to-25 ratio of produce to other items, he said, would help to reduce competition between the market and any surrounding stores.

But Edwards said it is hard to meet the requested change because the market because the company use similar managements styles across all of their locations, where produce accounts for about 65 percent of all goods.

“Even 65 percent of (produce and agriculture products) is difficult to maintain,” Edwards said.

“We know what percentages will and won’t work. (Local business owners are) not the farmers market experts.”

Still, Raw Inspiration would consider accepting the management position if merchants agree to having a market and if the terms of agreement are feasible for the company, he said.

He added that if Raw Inspiration were to become the new operator for the Westwood market, they would do their best to work with the needs of local businesses within the company’s business parameters.

“What I’m trying to do is work with the community,” Edwards said.

“If we were to sell flowers at the market, the first thing we would do is ask the local florist shop and ask, “˜Why don’t you participate with us?’”

There is no scheduled date for when the improvement association will come to a decision on establishing a new location for the farmer’s market, he said.

“We will conduct a thorough and thoughtful process and make the best decision for our district,” he said.

The business district will hold a meeting on Friday with local merchants to continue to discuss concerns about the operations of the farmers market, Thomas said.

Email Han at [email protected]

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