SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors on Monday sparred over whether the city should allow the South Portland Farmers Market to erect a large sign near the intersection of Waterman Drive and Broadway.
The market, championed on the council by Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis, wants a 4-by-8 sign, similar to the one in front of Scarborough’s Municipal Campus that advertises that town’s market.
The farmers think a sign, directing traffic to the market in Thomas Knight Park, would help drive customers to vendors. The market has seen business decline since it opened last year.
“We’re working with a very sophisticated group of farmers who have done this in other markets,” said Michael Vaillancourt, an attorney and member of the South Portland Farmers Market committee. “Signs work, they tell us.”
The Knightville-Mill Creek Neighborhood Association supports the market and the sign, the group’s chairwoman, Leah Lippman, said.
Councilor Jerry Jalbert had the most reservations. He said it isn’t fair to other stores in town that sell goods similar to what’s available at the farmers market.
He also said that even if he were to support a sign, 8 feet wide is too big.
“Everyone wants to support a small business. That’s only natural,” he said. “But I do think of the organizations, including the large grocery stores, that have paid over the decades so much in tax dollars.”
De Angelis pushed hard for approval, at one point saying the farmers “wouldn’t come” if they got anything less than a 4-by-6 sign on Waterman Drive.
“This market will not survive with little, tasteful, 2-by-2 signs,” she said, to which Jalbert responded, “Then maybe it’s not a good economic model.”
Councilors Al Livingston and Maxine Beecher said they thought the market would be better off with several smaller signs along the road, similar to the ones along Broadway pointing the way to Southern Maine Community College.
Councilors Tom Blake and Tom Coward said they are fine with a 4-by-6 sign, as long as it is well-designed. Coward also rejected the idea that helping the market with a sign is somehow unfair.
“I wouldn’t take seriously the argument that Hannaford would feel we were being unfair to them because we are allowing a sign for a market that’s open once a week and essentially sells lettuce,” he said.
Finding no clear consensus, Mayor Patti Smith had the councilors agree to take the issue up in a 45-minute workshop before their meeting on Monday, March 5, with the hope they could vote after that.
She also threw her hat in with the farmers.
“I personally feel the farmers market adds vibrancy and life to South Portland,” Smith said. “It would be a shame to lose the farmers market at this point.”
Shoppers meander past vendors at the South Portland Farmers Market during it’s opening day on July 14, 2011.