This could be the last season for the Thursday farmers market in Akron's Highland Square neighborhood if sales of fresh fruits, veggies and more don’t pick up.
“We were struggling even at the old location,” said Erin Molnar, director of local food programs for the nonprofit Countryside that operates the market.
“And it’s gotten worse,” she said, at the current location at the city's Will Christy Park, at Exchange Street and Rose Avenue.
The market moved to the park beginning with the 2017 season.
Previously, the weekly market — which this year runs from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays through Aug. 29 — was at the more visible location of Market Street and Conger Avenue, amid Highland Square businesses.
Some have suggested moving the market back to the Conger location. Molnar said that's not feasible, noting the city requested the market move from there in 2017 because of traffic concerns.
The plan is for Countryside to look at sales figures when the season is over, and get vendors’ input and then decide whether the market has a future, Molnar said.
While overall sales have declined, sales involving lower-income customers using SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) has increased.
“I don’t want to take away food access from a demographic that needs it and is using it,” Molnar said.
The market accepts Produce Perks, which allow customers using the SNAP/Ohio Direction Card to receive matching funds to buy additional fresh fruits and vegetables.
Markets across the country are suffering from a lack of sales, Molnar said, and that will be taken into consideration. Reasons offered for poor sales include customers seeking out the convenience of meal kits sold online and the growth in the number of markets.
Today there are some 8,600 farmers markets registered in the United States Department of Agriculture's Farmers Market Directory (www.ams.usda.gov/local-food-directories/farmersmarkets). In 1994, there were about 2,000.
At the Highland Square market last week, vendor Michelle Santantonio, who owns Lucky Suds soaps and other bath products, noted, “parking is huge,” and customers say a lack of dedicated parking spaces for the market is a deterrence. Customers park on streets adjacent to the park and nearby.
“I think it’s a lovely market, great farmers’ foods. That lady over there with the chocolate makes fantastic marshmallow chocolates,” Santantonio said, motioning toward the Chocolate Harmony booth.
Kimberley Douglas, and her two daughters — Kennedy Douglas, 10, and Kendall Hubbard, 5 — where checking out the fresh strawberries from Huffman Farm in Columbiana County. Douglas said she'd hate to see the market disappear.
“This is a good resource in the community,” she said, noting she likes that she can pick up farm fresh produce close to where she lives in Akron.
She said she didn’t have any trouble finding a parking space.
“I thought I was going to have to circle around,” she said.
Another customer, Kim Alberts, lives in Stow, miles from the market. Allberts stopped by on her way home from work as a librarian at the Akron-Summit County Main Library downtown.
She sometimes has to work Saturdays, when some other markets are offered, she said, and the Thursday market is a good alternative.
Molnar, with market operator Countryside, has been talking with the city about some kind of temporary signage at the park that would help promote the market.
Countryside also runs a market from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays at Howe Meadow in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Other Saturday markets include the Stow Community Farmers Market, which runs 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the parking lot of the Stow Community Church at 1567 Pilgrim Drive.
For more information on Countyside’s markets, go to www.cvcountryside.org or find Countryside on Facebook. A list of vendors at each of the organization’s markets is available on the website.
Ribs and more
In case you missed our story Monday about Akron’s Rib, White and Blue Festival, the event runs 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and again will be on South Main between University and Bowery streets in downtown Akron.
Related events will be at Lock 3 park, off this stretch of South Main.
Admission is free. You pay for ribs. The Fourth of July fireworks display will begin at 9:45 p.m. July 4, and there will be a bonus fireworks show at about 10:15 p.m. July 6.
Part of Main will be closed to traffic, and the big Main Street reconstruction project will not move to in front of Lock 3 until after the Italian Festival, which is set for July 11-13.
Information on the festival, including the lineup of bands playing at Lock 3, is at www.lock3live.com. Information also is at www.downtownakron.com.
The Akron Hungarian Club will host a summer picnic July 14, offering Hungarian eats, including pastries, for sale. Beverages also will be available for purchase. Admission to the event is $2.
The picnic will begin at 2 p.m. at the club, at 694 E. Waterloo Road in Akron.
Send local food news to Katie Byard at 330-996-3781 or email@example.com. You can follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or on Facebook.