The College Park City Council discussed whether to temporarily close the Hollywood Farmers Market at Tuesday’s meeting.

The market takes place on Saturdays from May through November and initially started as a community-led initiative more than 10 years ago, according to city documents. City staff took over the operation of the market about four years ago. The market has struggled to attract and retain vendors with an appropriate produce range and stay competitive with other grocery stores and farmers markets in the area, according to city staff. That has led the council to reconsider its future.

The market’s coordinator, manager and food access coordinator are all city staff members. But the current market coordinator will not be able to work for the spring and part of the summer this year.

The market’s contracted food access coordinator will also not be returning for the 2024 season. Aaron Springer, the market manager and a College Park resident, emphasized that the market needs at least two staff members to function.

Because of these circumstances, city staff recommended the council pause the market’s operations until the North College Park Community Center is constructed and Duvall Field renovations are complete. The city wants to explore the potential of temporarily moving the market to Duvall Field, but both construction projects have no set completion date.

Many College Park residents strongly oppose a pause to the market’s operations, according to Mayor Fazlul Kabir. Residents emailed the council with nearly 100 comments on the issue in the last few days. “Almost all of them” expressed support for keeping the market open, Kabir said.

Kenny Young, the city manager, hopes more of these residents show up to support the market every weekend.

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“If you just took the number of people who corresponded with you all over this weekend, that was almost double the amount of people that we normally have at the market,” Young said.

Other city staff expressed concern about how much the city spends to subsidize the market’s operations. The city budgeted $22,000 for the market in the 2024 fiscal year budget and if the market continues in 2025, the proposed budget would rise to $30,000, Bill Gardiner, the assistant city manager,said.

Gardiner added that nearby cities such as Greenbelt, La Plata and Bowie do not spend more than $25,000 on their markets.

Despite the market’s lack of profitability for the city, Springer believes it improves residents’ quality of life. Springer has spent countless hours at the farmers market with his child over the years, he said.

“It’s not a corporate conglomerate. It’s a space that people can call their own,” Springer said.

District 1 council member Jacob Hernandez suggested that the city organize more social events at the market to boost attendance and to make it more viable.

“We can promote some really good neighbor interaction here while giving folks the opportunity to buy from some local vendors,” Hernandez said.

District 2 council member Susan Whitney said she thinks pushing the market’s hours to 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. could help boost attendance. The market’s current hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Whitney also suggested bringing vendors who would be willing to sell fresh baked goods, such as beignets.

“They had fresh donuts at the Greenbelt Market for a while,” Whitney said. “I don’t think they’re there anymore, but I will drive for beignets, I will walk, I will do anything for a good beignet.”

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Deputy student liaison Gannon Sprinkle recommended more involvement of University of Maryland students in the market’s operations.

If student entrepreneurs could sell products at the Hollywood Farmers Market, their friends would likely come off campus to shop from them, Sprinkle said.

Council members also shared concerns about a decrease in farmers vendors in the last decade. The number of vendors at the market has decreased from about 30 to 13 since 2014, Kabir said.

District 3 council member John Rigg was hesitant to keep supporting the market because he is concerned with its sustainability.

“My willingness to continue to provide city money for a small farmers market in the far corner of our city is temporary,” Rigg said. “I’m willing to do that once, but I’m not willing to do that more than once.”

Mayor Pro Tem Denise Mitchell pushed back on Rigg’s idea that the market was isolated from the city.

“This is a city-wide market,” Mitchell said. “It happens to be in North College Park, but it is a city-wide market.”

City staff will collect feedback on the market from local community members this month before the council decides its future, Gardiner said.