Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – The Plaza isn’t just a historic resource – a factor complicating removal of the McKinley statue – it’s a mercantile one, and a finite one at that. No wonder then that different kinds of merchants compete for presence there, with tension sometimes apparent between visiting mobile vendors and brick-and-mortar shops.
Along with fairs and festivals, the North Coast Growers Association’s (NCGA) weekly Farmers Market inevitably impacts storefront businesses, who have lodged a number of objections. Farmer vehicles eliminate parking spaces, forcing shoppers to park elsewhere and hike in.
Yet the farmers, whose weekly market has become a cherished fixture, feel they are as much a part of the community as the storefront shops, and that they are entitled to a share of the selling space.
Some merchants dislike how bulky farm vehicles reduce views of the shops, while the backed-in trucks and crowds have blocked sidewalks and generally clog traffic. The market crowds, merchants have complained, don’t always translate into business for adjacent businesses.
In an effort to shake up the current dysfunctional paradigm, the NCGA has presented a possible proposal to change up the Saturday farmers market’s circulation plan. Laura Hughes, NCGA’s director of market operations, presented a preliminary plan at Arcata Main Street’s monthly business meeting last Tuesday, Jan. 12.
The NCGA surveyed its member farmers and customers at the July 21, 2018 Plaza market. The findings were mixed, but generally favored the partial Plaza closure, with Eighth and Ninth streets shut off to through traffic.
The NCGA will vote on the proposal at its Spring Membership Meeting Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 5 p.m. in the Arts and Crafts Room at the Arcata Community Center. The meeting is open to the public.
The proposal farmers will consider involves closure of Eighth and Ninth streets for through-traffic only during the Saturday Farmers Market, from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Though no significant barriers are planned, traffic signs would direct drivers away from the two streets. Eighth and Ninth streets would each have an additional four designated handicapped spots.
Vendors, and customers buying bulk quantities, would still have access for loading and unloading. However, vendors would be encouraged to park during the market at designated lots located at Seventh and F streets and at Eighth and F streets.
Hughes said the farmers currently park their vehicles on the street between their stalls and the streets as a safety barrier to protect themselves and their customers against traffic.
The proposal was developed via working group meetings which included merchants and city staff and other stakeholders. Goals are to reduce traffic congestion, improve safety and walkability downtown and increase pedestrian access to Plaza businesses.
The principal advantage, Hughes said, is safety. “We’re gaining the benefit of not fearing for our lives,” she said.
At tonight's meeting, Arcata Main Street will represent responses to the downtown business road closure survey, which were:
• 60 percent felt that road closure will negatively effect business on and around the Arcata Plaza
• 30 percent felt it would be a good change toward making the space safer
• 10 percent felt "other," with notes