After more than ten years in its current home, the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market is getting ready to move.
By mid-March, vendors will clear out and some will take their stands a few hundred metres away to another Halifax Port Authority building: Pavilion 22 — a space that's typically used in the summer to usher in cruise-ship passengers.
Pavilion 22 didn't see any arrivals in 2020 because of the pandemic and the 2021 cruise season is still a question mark, but the port authority is hoping some ships will dock. So, in the summer months, the parking lot at the north end of the port will be converted into an open-air market.
"Really our goal here is to find a model that is sustainable," said Halifax Port Authority spokesperson Lane Farguson.
"Having a building of this size on the waterfront in Halifax and not being used to its full extent, five or even six days a week, depending — we just can't carry on like that," Farguson said.
"And especially now when we've got limited capacity due to COVID restrictions. It's not good for the customers or the vendors."
Market was facing challenges before COVID-19 struck
In 2010, the farmers market left its traditional home in Brewery Square for the new state-of-the-art Seaport market. Some tenants remained at the Keiths market, which still operates.
The pandemic isn't the only reason for the changes that are afoot. Last February, before COVID-19 arrived in Nova Scotia, the port authority issued a call for someone to take over operational management of the market.
The port authority, which started managing the market in 2012, recognized the space was being underutilized and was struggling to boost business.
When the market was imagined more than a decade ago, it was as a bustling, seven-day-a-week operation. But that hasn't come to be. Weekends, at least before the pandemic, were busy, but customers have never flocked to the market on weekdays and only a fraction of vendors operate more than a day or two per week.
"The reality is, we're not an expert on retail. We're a port authority. We manage ships, we manage the movement of people with cruise ships," Farguson told CBC at the time.
Then the pandemic struck, and Farguson said the interest they'd been garnering for a new market manager "evaporated."
COVID-19 shut the market down temporarily last spring, and business resumed at limited capacity in July. To keep in line with Public Health guidelines, the market has only about 30 per cent of its usual vendors and customers.
Still, it's been worthwhile for some vendors to keep operating, like Kevin Graham of Oakview Farm.
Graham grows produce and raises laying hens and beef cows in Kingsport, N.S., and has been selling at the Halifax Seaport Market since its beginning.
"This is the cornerstone of our business," Graham said in an interview beside his farm stand on Saturday. "It's our main cash flow, it sustains us."
If the market hadn't reopened last July, Graham said, "I don't know, with my balance sheet at the farm, whether I'd still be going."
Some vendors committed to moving with the market
Oakview Farm will follow the market down the road to Pavilion 22, Graham said, and he's all for the open-air summer market concept. He always prefers to set up outside, as long as the weather allows. But he'll miss the current building.
"It's gone through its ups and downs over time with different issues, but it's been a cornerstone, a landmark for the city, this building and this market … Not that we're going to totally lose that, but it's kind of associated with this space, I think."
Artisan Donna Hopper said she sees opportunity in the changes. She's been selling her woodwork at the market for about ten years, four of those out of a permanent stand that she built on the inside perimeter of the market.
"I personally am excited. I had already planned on growing my business. When I heard about the plans that they had for the market, it sort of went along with what I had already been dreaming about," Hopper said.
The details of what her new set-up will look like are still to be sorted out, as they are for all vendors, who just learned of the move late last week when it was announced publicly.
To begin, the port authority is planning to focus on weekend market hours, only, at Pavilion 22. Some weekday business could remain at the current market building in the half-dozen storefronts that run along the outside perimeter. They used to be full of shops and restaurants, but only one remains.
Farguson said the port authority will be looking to fill those storefronts back up with tenants. Meanwhile, inside the large market space, the port authority is trying to attract businesses from the transportation industry to set up shop.
Farguson said they want to create an "innovation hub," which he described as a space where companies "can come together and work together on problems that they all face within the industry, and then come up with creative solutions."
He said two potential participants are PSA Halifax, the lessee of the south-end container terminal, and CN Rail.
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