Newton’s Parks and Recreation Department did the right thing this month when a decision was made to exclude non-local bakers among the vendors at the new indoor winter farmers market at the Hyde Center.
Let me back up: I was excited when this new farmers market was first announced (in fact I was there when the idea first hatched) because, among other things, I’d believed this would be a boost for Newton Highlands’ merchants, who’ve suffered from a lack of foot traffic following the closing of Bakers’ Best and several cherished retailers.
It’s been tough few years for many of Newton’s bricks and mortar businesses anyway — including those on Lincoln and Walnut Street in the Highlands — who pay high property taxes and pay high Newton rents to be in our beloved villages.
So imagine how you might feel if someone who sold identical, or close to identical, products started selling them things right down the street?
If it was another bricks and mortar business, I’d say that’s fair competition. Get smart and find a way to succeed.
But what if it’s a farmers market vendor who bakes their products in their home far from Newton, with none of the overhead, high taxes, rent, payroll and even those pesky Newton health code and inspectors to worry about. No overhead. No workers comp. No cumbersome regulations. Just pay a few bucks to set up a table.
And this is all being underwritten with support and resources from your municipality (in this case Parks & Rec, which staffs our farmers markets) in an exempt from property taxes facility.
Not exactly fair to the bricks and mortar business is it?
Now perhaps you’re thinking right: But the farmer’s market is only open one afternoon a week, what the big deal?
Margins are very thin for many business. One day of lost sales a week can be significant. It can be especially problematic if the day you’re competing against is an important one to your business, such as early release day for Newton elementary schools when parents often take their kids into your business for a baked snack. Or how about two days before Thanksgiving, where the number of baked deserts you sell that week can impact how well you end the year.
So that’s why I say, good for Parks and Rec for reaching this decision.