Two downtown Chestertown streets will be closed for Farmers Market on Saturday mornings until December, the town council decided at its Oct. 7 meeting. High Street and Park Row will both be closed to traffic and parking between Cross and Spring Streets. The closings are in effect between 6:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. “No parking” signs have been posted along the two streets to notify drivers of the change.
Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said that Fountain Park had been aerated and seeded a couple of weeks ago, to replenish the grass that was worn down by foot traffic during Farmers Market and other events in the park since it was last seeded. He described the reseeding as “a beautiful job,” but said it would be “a struggle” to accommodate the vendors while the new grass was growing. He asked if any vendors were present who wanted to discuss the issue, and about ten audience members raised their hands.
Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, who has taken the role of interim manager of the market, proposed the street closing to allow the vendors to set up away from the grass surface. The plan would put vendors on both sides of both High Street and Park Row, with the center of each road open for pedestrians. She said maps would be distributed to vendors and the curbs of both streets would be marked to designate spaces for the vendors to set up. Artisans will be on one side of the street and farmers on the other. Local businesses were also to be informed of the changes.
Ingersoll said the idea of closing the two streets had been presented to the vendors before the previous weekend, but they had asked for a postponement to this weekend, Oct. 12. He said he has thought for some time that making the square around the park into a pedestrian zone could enhance the downtown area. “I think this is something we need to try. If it’s a disaster for the merchants or the vendors, I think we should stop it,” he said. Otherwise, the streets will be closed until the weekend of Dec. 7, except for holiday parades. Kay MacIntosh of Main Street Chestertown said the Dickens Christmas festival would not be using the park during Farmers Market hours, so no adjustment would be needed for that. He said the change “may or may not be permanent.”
Audience members asked if the town had considered moving the market to Wilmer Park so as to minimize the disruption downtown. Ingersoll said that idea had been offered to the vendors, but they got “a quick thumbs-down” because of the remote location and insufficient parking. The same objections would apply to other areas outside downtown. Mayor Chris Cerino said people are used to the market being in and around Fountain Park, where various vendors have set up as far back as the 1940s.
Wanda Gorman, artisans’ market manager, said that moving the market elsewhere would not benefit downtown businesses, many of which see additional traffic during and after the farmers market hours. “People would come and get their produce and just leave,” she said.
Nancy McGuire, a former president of the Downtown Chestertown Association, said the local merchants definitely benefit from the market’s presence. She said she had suggested closing the street several years ago.
Connie Schroth, a member of the Chestertown Garden Club which maintains plantings in the park, said Fountain Park is “iconic to Chestertown,” and that the town can, with reasonable care, manage the farmers market and other events that use the park without damaging it. “I don’t think Chestertown can afford to let the park go under,” she said.
Ingersoll said the new scheme “will take a little adjustment,” but with common sense, it should work out. He said the Garden Club has been very patient, “but if you look at the park this year, it did look like a sandbox.”
He said that the town could continue as it has been with both shoppers and vendors on the grass of Fountain Park. But as the market has grown, the grass has been crushed and the earth compacted, resulting in large bare patches with most the grass in the park brown or dead by early summer each year. All of which has resulted in the need to reseed the park frequently—practically annually recently–with all the attendant lost time and cost.
Asked where the nonprofits who use part of the park will set up, Ingersoll said there is a “backlog of requests” for space for them, but room will be made for them on the High Street side. “We need to make room for everybody,” he said. He asked the vendors present whether any of them opposed the proposal, and there were no objections raised.
One audience member said there is a portable toilet near one address on Park Row, and asked that it be removed before the market opens. “We don’t want anyone selling food in front of that,” she said. Ingersoll said he would see that it was done.
Barb McBeth thanked the council for their efforts to solve the problems with the park. She described the park as “Chestertown’s favorite meeting place,” and noted that the Garden Club is happy to work with the town to keep it attractive and available for public use.
Also at the meeting, the council approved several appointments to town boards and commissions. Dan Divilio and Emily Genther were appointed to the Recreation Commission; Ruth Menefee and Cynthia Saunders were reappointed to the Tree Committee, and Connie Schroth was nominated for an open position on the Tree Committee. Lanny Parks was reappointed to the Zoning Board of Appeals. And John Hutchinson was nominated to a vacancy on the Planning Commission. The nominees will be voted on at the next council meeting, Oct. 21.