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CUP OF JOE WITH JOE The Downtown Windsor Farmers’ Market . . . “Market” On Your Calendar To Attend
After years of searching for their new forever home, the Downtown Windsor Farmers’ Market (DWFM), a non-profit Farmers’ Market partnership of the DWFM and the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association (DWBIA), has now been a fixture on Pelissier Street and Maiden Lane Avenue since 2016.
This year it has been operating on Saturdays, since May 1, and continues to do so until December 11, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.
I recently attended the market and was amazed by what I saw as I approached the intersection of Pelissier and Wyandotte. As far as my eyes could see, there was an endless line up of tent after tent after tent housing a very diverse assortment of market vendors and their products. The street was alive and filled with masked (COVID-19 safety protocols) market shoppers of all ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds. This was a microcosm of the Windsor I know and love!
Due to previous pandemic restrictions (and the fact that I also officiate weddings on Saturdays) I finally had the chance to visit the market in July 2021 . . . and what a pleasant surprise it was for me.
There have been palpable, positive vibes felt in the downtown Windsor core in the past few years. The DWBIA and their ally partners have undertaken new and exciting initiatives to help bring this new vitality and energy to a downtown, too long neglected. I don’t have the space here to describe all these initiatives — except for one major one — The Downtown Windsor Farmers’ Market.
While I was at the market, I sat down and chatted with DWBIA Executive Director, Debi Croucher and Steve Green, DWFM Manager. They helped me understand the sense of optimism I was experiencing for downtown and the role the market was playing in its resurgence.
One of the payoffs for the city in terms of the market’s success is an increase in the occupancy of unoccupied properties in the area.
Croucher indicates: “There is no longer a vacant property in the vicinity of the market. This is something that changed within the first year of the market on Pelissier. At that time there was a 30% property vacancy rate in the area and by the end of the first year there was only one vacant property left.”
She also points out the DWBIA made a significant infrastructure investment in the city with respect to the two ground-level parking garage sections (a subject of enormous controversy a few years back): “The ground level of the parking garage can now be activated, whether it’s for markets, parking, or any other event, because it now has hydro consumption. We’ve been able to demonstrate this effectively and safely.”
From a financial perspective, the DWFM has been a great success.
“Our totally self-funded market — (with the exception of some grants received this past year related to implementing COVID-19 initiatives) — turned a year-end profit of $40,000,” Croucher reports. “All of this money goes right back into the market to fund new initiatives like our new e-commerce platform.”
Green adds, “The appeal of the market also brings 2,000 people into the downtown core each week who not only shop at the market, but at existing businesses as well, and dine in our restaurants. Vendors can earn $1,000 on a good day. Multiply that by the 33 market dates times 70 to 80 vendors — well you do the math and see what kind of money can be made by these local small businesses in a year’s time.”
Since my last visit to the market a year ago, the number of vendors has grown significantly.
When I asked Green about the current vendor status, he proudly tells me: “We are two empty spots shy of 80 vendors currently, and I will soon have to activate 12 more spaces from our current inventory of available spots.”
My next question to Green was if he required city or DWFM board approval for additional vendors.
He replies: “No, I have set parameters from Wyandotte to Park and the Parking Garage; so, anything I can do to add additional vendors within these parameters, safely, is my prerogative.”
Green maintains a waiting list inventory of potential vendors, which has reached as high as 45 in recent times.
To become a vendor, the process and fees required are clearly spelled out on the DWFM website. There is also an online application that must be completed and submitted.
This year the market has been extended from early October to December 11th — an addition of five more weeks. This was not in response to COVID-19, although in some ways it helped in lengthening its schedule, since outdoor markets are a category that are permitted to remain open (with mitigation restrictions) during shutdowns. However, even without the pandemic this past year, plans were already in place to extend the market year to mid-December.
A new feature to the market this year is the ability for shoppers to purchase items from the comfort of home, from the downtown market, with “ShopDWFM” — a multi-vendor e-commerce platform.
Here is how it works. By Friday of each week, place your order of favourite foods, artisan crafts, etc. by placing the items in your virtual shopping cart; next you pay for the goods and they will be waiting for you at the various vendors the following morning.
“They can place their order online and then on the day of market, they bring their order ID with them, they go pick the items up directly from the vendors,” Croucher explains. “So, they can skip the line for one; secondly, they can guarantee whatever products or produce they’re looking for is in stock; and finally, their purchases have been paid for and reserved for them.”
This e-commerce platform also operates during non-market months, allowing registered vendors to sell their products online from their stores or homes, to their clients, 12 months a year.
During my walkabout at the DWFM I was delighted to see a significant cross section of our population represented as buyers and sellers of one another’s goods. Windsor has long been known to be in the top four ethnically diverse cities in Canada, on a per capita basis, and this diversity shines through at the market.
Green comments that the market has established solid relationships with local social organizations, collaborating with new immigrants to our region. They assist the newcomers to Windsor to help them start up their own businesses and sell their wares at the DWFM. Eventually, many of them branch out from the market to their own “brick and mortar” businesses.
As Green says with a big smile, “The DWFM is the ‘farm team’ for their future businesses.”
If you haven’t had a chance to attend the market this year, I urge you to do so to discover some new friends and support local businesses at the same time.
“Market” on your calendar and enjoy our locally grown farm fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers, and unique artisan food, and browse the art exhibits, crafts vendors, community booths, entertainment, food demos and kid’s corner. You will not be disappointed and it will make you proud!