SOUTH PORTLAND — The decision may not be made for another two months, but city councilors are clearing the path for the outdoor farmers market to return to Hinckley Drive next year.
In a 70-minute workshop discussion Monday at the Community Center, councilors received the most comprehensive data about market performance and customer response since the market was established at Thomas Knight Park in the summer of 2011.
The market moved to Hinckley Drive last year.
A report based on surveys and customer counts, compiled by city resident Ruth Price, showed the Hinckley Drive location enjoys wide customer support: 94 percent of 179 survey respondents said they prefer having the market on Hinckley Drive in 2014.
Vendor support was less overwhelming: six of the 11 current vendors said they are interested in returning to Hinckley for Thursday afternoon markets next week.
With the data in hand, Mayor Tom Blake began a push to settle the market location sooner rather than later.
Setting the market’s site, time and street closure requires council approval, and Blake was ready to schedule a vote in October. But lingering questions over what was not included in the report led Blake to ask Councilors Patti Smith and Linda Cohen to work with Price on a one-page market survey to post on the city website.
The second survey will be an attempt to get wider feedback on the benefits and problems of using Hinckley Drive.
Blake and councilors set a goal of voting on a market location by the end of November.
This year, councilors approved the return to the block of Hinckley Drive between Ocean Street and Cottage Road over the objections of City Manager Jim Gailey.
Gailey said there were complaints from area business owners and commuters about closing the street. But councilors decided to give the market another opportunity because 2012 construction projects in Knightville and Mill Creek also complicated travel in the neighborhood.
In the March 18 meeting approving the Hinckley Drive site, Smith was among councilors who pressed South Portland Farmer’s Market Association director Caitlin Jordan to provide more data supporting why the site is critical for market success.
Smith reaffirmed her support for the market concept Monday, but said she remains unconvinced Hinckley Drive is essential for its success.
“I just wish we could find the most premier spot for people trying to navigate the city,” she said.
The report to the council included a five-week head count by vendor Tom Adelman of Stone Clover Flowers in West Baldwin. From July 25 through Sept. 5, Adelman estimated an average of 290 market visitors each week, with a peak of 362 on Aug. 8 and a low of 183 on Aug. 22.
The survey indicated a typical market visitor was a woman between 50 and 60, from a household with an annual income of at least $100,000, who spent $10 to $19 each week.
Price and Jordan were quick to note statistical findings were limited to those who filled out the surveys on Aug. 8, 15 and 22, and not all respondents filled out the entire questionnaire.
Jordan said her visceral impressions and discussions with vendors suggested the market is slowly expanding its customer base.
“We are constantly seeing growth,” she said. “There are new customers every week.”
Jordan again pressed the council to allow more and bigger signs to advertise the market, noting the Sunday market outside Scarborough Town Hall is advertised by a sign on U.S. Route 1 each day throughout the market season.
“More signage is the biggest thing we would like to have,” she said.