Maine Mall pitches 2nd farmers market for South Portland

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SOUTH PORTLAND — People looking for fresh-from-the-farm products will have another shopping option this summer if the Maine Mall’s plan to open a farmers market are approved next Tuesday.

The mall applied to the city’s Planning Board for permission to open a farmers market on Tuesdays between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. from May 29 to Sept. 25. The market would be staged in the parking lot at the intersection of Philbrook Avenue and Gorham Road, near Books-A-Million and Weathervane.

“The Maine Mall Farmers Market is an easy-to-implement way to support the local economy and create a sense of community in a largely commercial area,” Craig Gorris, general manager of the mall, said. 

The mall operated a farmers market in 2005, but has since changed management companies, so data on why that market closed is unavailable, Gorris said. 

If the Planning Board approves the application, the mall location would become South Portland’s second farmers market. The first, which had its inaugural year at Thomas Knight Park last year, was scheduled to open for its second season Thursday on Hinckley Drive.

And while both markets will feature produce, meat and dairy vendors, they aren’t exactly the same. The city’s ordinance on farmers markets allows one market, run by the city on city-owned property.

For the Maine Mall to open a market, it has to get special permission from the city for outdoor sales and displays. That’s the same permission that allows Home Depot to sell flowers outside, or auto dealerships to display price tags on vehicles. 

“This is a typical outdoor display application,” Steve Puleo, the city’s community planner, said. “It happens to be for a farmers market, but it could be sports memorabilia, or toys.”

While the mall plans to coordinate the market, each vendor would have to obtain their own license at a cost of $120. Farmers involved in the South Portland Farmers Market on Hinckley Drive pay the city $20 and a farmers market organization, which administers the market, another $80. 

The mall provided the Planning Board with a list of 11 vendors interested in joining the market, and Gorris said more would likely come if the market is approved. Three of the farms – Fresh Start Farm, which sells produce; Main-ly Poultry and Piper Ranch, a beef vendor – also applied to be part of the city’s market. 

Caitlin Jordan, the South Portland Farmers Market manager, said she isn’t concerned about competition from a second market. 

“I think it’s a completely different demographic who will shop at the two different markets,” she said. The Mill Creek market is open from 3-7 p.m., and caters to a returning-from-work commuter crowd. The mall market, Gorris said, will target people shopping on their lunch breaks.

“The geography and time are different,” Jordan said. “The people that are stopping at our market, the idea is that people coming through South Portland on the way home from work will stop by. They’d probably all be at work noontime on Tuesdays, so I don’t see them shopping at both.”

A group of women playing bridge in the Maine Mall Food Court on Tuesday morning agreed. They said customers from surrounding communities like Westbrook, Gorham or even Portland – which has its own well-established farmers markets twice a week – would probably shop at the mall market.

“This would be perfect,” said Pat Small, a South Portland resident. “A lot of people come here. Mill Creek would probably only take customers from Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough. Everyone could benefit here.”

Gorris said the mall will plan performances and giveaways, both inside the mall and outside, to coincide with the farmers market and attract shoppers. 

The Planning Board meets 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. The board will take comments from the public in considering the Maine Mall’s application. 

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.