Bloomington farmers market numbers dramatically down, Tuesday announcement on re-opening

Anecdotal reports of attendance being down this year at Bloomington’s farmers market were confirmed with some numbers  on Monday during a Facebook livestream event hosted by the mayor’s office.

Parks and recreation department administrator Paula McDevitt said there’d been 19,000 market visitors this July compared with 40,000 last year.

R Bar Annotated Farmers Market Participations

That’s consistent with the total figures to date reviewed by The Beacon.

The FB live-stream came during the two-week hiatus for the market, declared by Mayor John Hamilton due to public safety concerns.

During Monday’s FB live-stream, Hamilton said he would announce on Tuesday how the market would re-open. By Monday afternoon, the city had not confirmed that the market will be open as usual on Aug. 17.

The initial announcement from the city on July 29 about the temporary closure said the market would be suspended for two weeks. As the reason, the city’s press release gave concerns for public safety:  “Since the recent public discussion of ties between a vendor at the market and white nationalist causes and groups, the City has identified increasing threats to public safety.”

For two Saturdays, vendors and others in the community have bootstrapped an alternate location out behind the east-side Bloomingfoods in the former Kmart parking lot. A suspension of just two weeks would mean the market would resume on Aug. 17.

The FB live event was meant to solicit ideas for moving forward on the market.

Based on data in the city’s B-Clear data portal and this year’s figures up to now, the dropoff in market attendance appears significant.

The end of July marked about the midpoint of the season. According to Marcia Veldman, the city’s farmers market coordinator, the tally of market visitors so far this year is 64,251.  Last year about a quarter million people visited the market during the whole year. If the second half mirrors the first half, the market would be on course for a 50 percent decrease.

Is the second half of the season typically busier than the first? No, at least not last year. Veldman told The Beacon that last year, the numbers in the first half of the season were 20 percent higher than in the last half. If that 20 percent difference is ignored (erring on the side of optimism for higher numbers), a simple full year projection from this year’s first-half numbers would work out to 128,502 visitors.

Those 128,502 visitors would be the lowest number since 2006. It would mean a 50 percent drop compared to last year.

According to Veldman, households spend about $20 to $25 per market visit. Assuming that every two people visiting the market reflects about one household, Veldman calculates that the 250,000 customer visits in 2018 had a $2.8 million impact for farm and prepared food vendors. That doesn’t factor in the money spent at nearby businesses.

Measured in money, this year’s market looks on course to fall short of last year’s economic impact by at least $1.4 million.