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Edmonton Downtown Farmers' Market forced to move amid high utility costs, low foot traffic

The downtown farmers' market moved in 2019 from its seasonal 104th Street location, to its current indoor, year-round building on 97th Street and 103rd Avenue. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC - image credit)
The downtown farmers' market moved in 2019 from its seasonal 104th Street location, to its current indoor, year-round building on 97th Street and 103rd Avenue. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC - image credit)

The Edmonton Downtown Farmers' Market will be moving from its historical building amid financial woes — but where has not yet been determined.

The Edmonton Downtown Farmers Market Association board of directors posted a letter on social media Thursday, announcing it is unable to sustain operations in its 113-year-old building, due to high operational and utility costs — especially during the winter months — and fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We had vendors dropping off. The customer traffic was not the same," said Elaine Doucette, the market's manager.

The board of directors, which includes vendors and community members, will hold a meeting on Jan. 27 to discuss the farmer market's future.

The farmers' market association will be seeking accounting and legal advice, including bankruptcy, according to its letter. The last day for patrons to visit the market at its current location — 97th Street and 103rd Avenue — could be Jan. 28.

High fixed expenses and dwindling foot traffic post-pandemic have hit the market hard, Doucette said.

Utilities cost about $20,000 in the winter and $13,000 in the summer, she said.

There are currently 60 vendors at the market, down from 250 vendors in 2019, she said. Pre-pandemic, the market could see 10,000 to 20,000 people on Saturdays, but now it only welcomes about 5,000 to 7,000.

"It's a huge drop," Doucette said.

The board and its landlord, the City of Edmonton, agreed not to renew the buidling's lease, which expires in April, according to the letter posted on Thursday.

The weekend market will likely have to declare bankruptcy, and the last day for patrons to attend could be Jan. 28.
The weekend market will likely have to declare bankruptcy, and the last day for patrons to attend could be Jan. 28.

The weekend market will likely have to declare bankruptcy, and the last day for patrons to attend could be Jan. 28, according to manager Elaine Doucette. (Isaiah Rust/Radio-Canada)

Jamie Furie, owner of Warp Seed Bagels, a vendor at the market, wasn't entirely surprised that vendors will have to vacate the building.

"We've seen things sliding... for the past few months, so [the announcement] wasn't a huge surprise, but a bit devastating," Furie told CBC News.

Danielle Dallaire, who visits the farmers' market every weekend, was heartbroken when she saw the news of the closure on social media, she said.

"It's where I get most of my [food] staples. I won't buy produce from a grocery store because it does not taste like it does here," Dallaire said. "The people who you meet here — and the connection and the location — it's great.

"There's always talk about wanting to revitalize downtown. Well, we need more of this."

Danielle Dallaire at the Edmonton Downtown Farmers' Market on Jan. 20.
Danielle Dallaire at the Edmonton Downtown Farmers' Market on Jan. 20.

Danielle Dallaire, who visits the farmers' market weekly, was heartbroken to learn it would be closing its year-round operations. (Isaiah Rust/Radio-Canada)

Prior to moving in 2019, the market used to operate seasonally on 104th Street.

The board remains optimistic about the possibility of re-establishing a seasonal outdoor market on 104th Street in the coming spring, Doucette said.

"There are a lot of vendors excited about going back to the outdoor market," she said.

Some vendors left the market before the move in 2019, she said. Now, some of them want back in.