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Hampshire Mall to host Amherst’s indoor winter farmer’s market

  • In this Feburary file photo, Lee Fernandez of Brookfield-based Turnabout Farm, left, chats with customers Merricka Brever and her son Clinton, 9, both of Sunderland, during the Amherst Winter Farmers Market. The market will move to the Hampshire Mall for the upcoming season, which begins Dec. 2. gazette file photo



Staff Writer
Friday, November 24, 2017

HADLEY — A corridor inside the Hampshire Mall will be transformed into new space for the Amherst Winter Farmers Market in time for a Dec. 2 opening.

After seven years at the cafeteria at the Amherst Regional Middle School, the 30 or so vendors that have been setting up at the indoor farmers market will have a new home in the mall’s main corridor next to Target on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through March 17.

“The potential for partnership with the Hampshire Mall is really exciting,” said Cathleen O’Keefe, the market’s manager. “A lot of our customers are already shopping at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.”

O’Keefe also anticipates reaching new customers, with the move potentially slowing the decline in business since the winter market first opened in 2010.

“We’re going to where the people are. We’re sort of going to the belly of the beast,” O’Keefe said.

Even though the market attempts to reach lower income families by accepting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, it hasn’t had much success in reaching a different demographic, perhaps in part because of public transportation challenges, O’Keefe said. The nearest PVTA bus stop to the middle school is at the intersection of Chestnut and East Pleasant streets, a significant half-mile walk, whereas the PVTA bus stop at the mall is near J.C. Penney.

But O’Keefe said she understands that the mall won’t be a popular decision with all patrons and farmers. The complaints so far, she said, range from moving from the town where it originated, and going to a more corporate environment.

O’Keefe explained that the market could no longer afford the $7,700 rent sought for the 16 weeks, or even the $6,200 the schools reduced it to. The mall rent will be $5,500.

“We searched high and low all over Amherst but couldn’t find a space in Amherst that would support us,” O’Keefe said.

Sean Mangano, finance director for the schools, said in an email that losing the market was not just about the rent, but also operational needs that the middle school could no longer meet, including increasing foot traffic and additional storage space.

Superintendent Michael Morris said his understanding, too, was that the departure from the middle school is not solely about finances.

“We are disappointed as we liked having the market on-site, but fully respect their decision,” Morris said.

Sarah Voiland, who co-owns Red Fire Farm in Granby, is one of those optimistic that there are many more people who may visit the market when it’s in the mall.

“We’re hoping it will be able to mean more access to fresh local produce,” Voiland said.

Hampshire Mall manager Lynn Gray said having the market will continue the transition of the shopping center from strictly national shops to one that has a greater variety of shopping options, as well as an entertainment and lifestyle destination. In addition to the market, Planet Fitness opens next week and Pinz, a bowling alley and nightclub, is scheduled to arrive in December.

“The diverse offerings from our very own locally owned farms and businesses will be a welcome addition for our shoppers and retailers,” Gray said.

O’Keefe said many vendors have committed to returning for all or part of the market season, including Grace Hill Farm artisan cheeses, Berkshire Mountain Bakery, Austin Brothers Valley Farm, Leyden Glen Lamb, Balkey Farm, Harvest Market and Smokey Divas, and will be joined by Red Fire Farm, Atlas Farms and Apex Orchards

The number of vendors peaks in December, when crafts, pies and other popular food around the holidays grows.

The market also intends to keep same vibe, including live music by local artists.

“I think people want to support growing locally and it will be good to see more people make it part of their routine,” O’Keefe said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.