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SOUTH PORTLAND — Farmers and shoppers will have one more place to come together in the city after the Planning Board cleared the way for the Maine Mall to open a weekly farmers market this summer.
At its Wednesday meeting, the Boarded voted 6-0 to allow the Maine Mall to host a farmers market in its “Festival Parking Lot” at the corner of Philbrick and Gorham roads every Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mall representatives said they have about a dozen vendors interested in participating in the new market, with space for up to 25.
“We feel the farmers market will offer our customers a service we feel will fit their lifestyle,” Maine Mall General Manager Craig Gorris said. “We’d also like to help the mall, and our tenants, extend the visit of our customers.”
The Maine Mall farmers market is expected to open on June 5 and run through the end of September.
The mall market joins the existing South Portland Farmers Market, open every Thursday from 3-7 p.m. on Hinckley Drive. While vendors with the Hinckley Drive market must join a Farmers Market Association and pay fees to both that group and the city, vendors at the mall must simply apply for vendors’ licenses at City Hall, a fee of about $120.
Under a previous owner, the mall held a farmers market in 2005, but it closed after one season. Gorris said the farmers market model is one that’s been used successfully at other malls owned by the mall’s parent company, General Growth Properties.
“This is a little outside the box for us, but we know the formula is out there and it works,” he said. “Farmers markets are very successful, and we’re hoping we can catch that.”
Although the Planning Board vote was unanimous (with Chairman Rob Schreiber recused because his jazz band has been paid to play at the mall on Black Friday), the meeting was not without drama.
City Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis responded to complaints made by Schreiber at the May 8 Planning Board meeting about city councilors lobbying the board about its decision to move the South Portland Farmers Market to Hinckley Drive.
Councilors Jerry Jalbert, Al Livingston, De Angelis, and Mayor Patti Smith either addressed the board or submitted comments on May 8 regarding that decision. Schreiber said the communication was “undue pressure” and refused to vote.
On Wednesday, De Angelis defended her right to address the Planning Board, admonished the chairman for shirking his “duty to vote.”
Schreiber has asked for an opinion form the city’s attorney, Sally Daggett, about the protocol for communication between the Planning Board and City Council. Pending that advice, he told the board Wednesday he would not participate in deliberations and left the meeting shortly before it adjourned.
The Maine Mall market approval came a week after the opening day for the South Portland Farmers Market at its new location on Hinckley Drive.
Last year, the market was held at Thomas Knight Park, with lackluster results. It’s hoped the Mill Creek Park location will attract more customers.
On May 17, 10 vendors were on hand to sell produce, meat, cheese, seafood and homemade dog treats. Caitlin Jordan, the South Portland Farmers Market manager, said that while business wasn’t booming, it was acceptable.
“It was a decent start,” Jordan said. “Hopefully, it’s just going to get bigger and better throughout the season.”
Some vendors, however, were concerned about where customers would find parking. The market takes place on a closed portion of Hinckley Drive; on-street parking is available on nearby Ocean, Cottage and Thomas streets.
“They should have considered having it somewhere more convenient for the customers,” Stuart White, of White’s Farm in Monroe, said.
But customers didn’t seem to mind. They said they easily found nearby parking. And even if they had to circle the block a few times, most seemed OK with it.
“Any really busy farmers market has issues with parking,” Rachael Harriman, of Cape Elizabeth, said. “Look at Deering Oaks or Monument Square (in Portland).” Those markets, she said, have little to no easy parking.
“If people want fresh fruits and meat,” she said. “They’ll find a way.”
Rachael Hariman watches as Simon Algara, left, and Conor Knowles, both 8, play with Hula Hoops from White’s Farm at the South Portland Farmers Market on Thursday, May 17.