The West Kootenay EcoSociety, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, has asked Nelson city council for help in funding its downtown market this year – a market that would look much different from previous years because of extensive pandemic protocols.
The EcoSociety has requested $30,000 in financial support, waiver of fees associated with market agreements (totalling $5,304), relocation of the Cottonwood Saturday Market to the 600 block of Baker Street, and a change in the Wednesday market hours of operation on the 600 block of Baker from 3 to 7 p.m.
When this request came to council’s Monday night meeting, council members immediately voted to refer the matter back to management staff for further consideration and then bring it back to a future council meeting.
Discussion of the reasons for this deferral took place in a closed portion of the meeting.
EcoSociety executive director Montana Burgess told the Star on Tuesday that without $30,000 the markets won’t be able to operate.
“We will keep looking for other revenue, but we have looked a lot of places,” she said. “We need the $30,000 from somewhere. If someone wants to write us a cheque, that would be great.”
The EcoSociety expects much lower revenue this year because they will have fewer vendors. Following provincial pandemic guidelines, the markets will have no craft vendors and the food vendors will be spaced a booth-width apart. Also cutting into the EcoSociety’s income is its cancellation of its GardenFest and MarketFests.
Council’s dilemma is that even though assisting the markets supports local agricultural businesses, a grant to the group might not be consistent with council’s recently adopted Economic Stimulus and Financial Stability 25 Action Point Plan, which focuses on the financial challenges the city is facing in the pandemic, and on assistance to Nelson businesses.
In that plan the city decided not to fund non-profits until they have applied for funds from other sources including other levels of government.
Several businesses in the 600 block of Baker have told council in written correspondence that it would be unfair for council to financially back the market when their individual businesses are struggling with the effects of the pandemic.
Council must decide whether the market will be located on Wednesdays on the 600 block of Baker and at what time of day, or whether the Saturday market normally held at Cottonwood Falls Park should also be held on Baker and at what time of day, or whether the markets should leave Baker Street entirely and be run at Cottonwood only.
The EcoSociety plans to limit the number of customers in the market at one time to 50, again following provincial government pandemic guidelines for markets. It’s not clear if the restrictions will include employees and customers of the Baker Street brick and mortar stores.
The city has received letters from several stores worried about this. Business owners also told council they oppose a Saturday market on Baker because it is their busiest day of the week.
The city has also received an opinion from the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce.
“This year is going to be even more challenging for everyone with businesses trying to recover from limited or no income for the past two months,” Chamber president Tanya Finley wrote. “Allowing a temporary market to dictate foot traffic on Baker Street that’s full of businesses trying to recover from pandemic closures isn’t a good idea.”
Finley suggested a Sunday market on Baker or locating the market on Victoria Street.
Burgess said the EcoSociety is open to all ideas. “We are open to other locations as long we we can run them in line with provincial guidelines,” she said.
Burgess said 500 people responded to an online EcoSociety survey in the past few weeks asking council to support the markets.
The pros and cons of these issues are outlined in more detail, along with copies of the letters from businesses, in the council materials attached below.