Chair - Cleon Berntheizel
Vice Chair - Don Haines
Treasurer - Elaine Beckley
Director - Jeanne Cooper
Director - Kellan Kernisky
Member at large - Bill Collister
SPY: What is the Trust's motivation in keeping the market house open? In other words, what is the Trust's personal interest?
COOPER: We all became members of the board because we wanted to be a part of something that we believed in. We all wanted to continue the tradition of having a market house in Columbia, a central location where people could meet, a place that was vital to the town, especially the downtown. The market house building is such a gem of a building. It is a beautiful building, and it should be viewed as such. Continuing the market should help the downtown thrive, from a historic perspective, as an incubator of small business, and as a retail establishment. We had a stakeholders meeting as a result of the charrette [consultant meeting in April].
BECKLEY: That's what came out of the charrette meeting. The market house - it was such a hot topic, and they recommended that we have a meeting with some of the local stakeholders. We did that in June.
COOPER: By stakeholders, we mean some of the businesses in town, some of the borough council members, the mayor. As a result of that, we came up with two things, two mandates from that meeting. One was that the market house should be income-generating for the borough. And it's obviously not. Secondly, that we might want to look at doing an RFP [Request for Proposal] or an RFQ [Request for Qualification].
BECKLEY: The other thing is actually that it was being under-utilized. The building is that significant that it should be operating five, six, seven days a week, not three.
COOPER: It's really our personal interest, and we all really care about it. We care about Columbia. We care about the downtown. We think the market house is the centerpiece and should be treated as such. We're trying desperately to keep it a market house, and we have to see how that falls out.
SPY: How do you respond to criticism that the market is losing vendors?
BECKLEY: That's a historic issue. It has always had ups and downs under everyone's management, whether that was the borough, or the borough hiring market managers, or the Trust, or the Trust hiring market managers. It's constantly been an up and, up and down, up and down. Vendors leave for various reasons. They leave for personal reasons, health issues, family issues. They leave because of the economy. Some stands are more affected by the economy than others. They leave because of logistics. We had one stand holder that left because she could no longer afford to pay. She was Amish. She could no longer afford to pay her driver $300 a week to get to the market house. And the general lack of infrastructure at the market house. It's just not there. Some of the businesses left us because their business grew.
COOPER: They started their little business in the market house and as time went on they did better and better and were able to go out and start their own business on Locust Street in a brick-and-mortar rental. It's tough when they leave.
BECKLEY: It's a double-edged sword for us. “Why don't they stay” as opposed to “why are they leaving?” The reason they don't stay in our market is a little different. It's a foot traffic and vendor issue. It seems like it's a constant catch-22, when we start getting a good base of vendors, then there's not the foot traffic there to support them to stay. So then the vendors leave - then more foot traffic leaves.
COOPER: We just never get past that 50 to 60 percent point where we've got enough of both to keep everything going.
BECKLEY: I think that's where we actually drew the conclusion that we need to revamp the inside. Close it down, revamp the inside, go out and find those vendors. That's when we started talking to a market house expert - Ken Kauffman. He said if you close it down, and redo the infrastructure, and I go get you 10, 12 stand holders for your staples . . .
COOPER: Like Hummer's Meats, S. Clyde Weaver.
HAINES: The market house was built in 1869, and a lot has not been updated, so we have 19th-century infrastructure, and it's very hard to attract a vendor to come in, particularly if they need refrigeration, freezers, sinks, and issues such as that. It's very difficult to find somebody to do that, because it's a very large setup cost to do that. Plus the fact that we have no air conditioning in the summer. With that going on, vendors are less likely to come in. We couldn't get a seafood vendor at this point. It would be impossible because of the heat, refrigeration.
BECKLEY: There's one common sink area that the vendors share, and we have two other stands that have their own sinks. It's actually three three-bay sinks - because of the standards from the state - a wash, a rinse and a sanitize. People don't want to bring coolers in there either. If you don't have some sort of a cooling system - because that makes that deli case have to work that much harder - because not only is it fighting to stay cool inside, but it's fighting that external temperature all the time.
SPY: What happens if you do not succeed in obtaining grant money?
KERNISKY: Last year, we put out a grant for $500,000, but it's a matching grant so it could be up to a million dollars. We would have to match that. We'd have to fund raise. So that was in the process. It got stalled. We're not quite sure when we'll find out about it, but if that doesn't happen, we are going to try to continue to work on a capital campaign that we started a little while back. We put that on the back burner for now, because we took on this RFQ proposal as was suggested at the charrette and the session we had with business leaders. We're definitely going to see where this RFQ takes us, if anywhere, while simultaneously thinking about this capital campaign, because grant or no grant I think it's good to think about fundraising opportunities - how we can as a trust continue to support the trust financially.
BECKLEY: The grant - last year when we applied for it - it went through the house with approval and then when it went to the senate they decided to go out for session and so [it went into limbo]. This year we can't even apply until a budget's passed, and no budget has been passed. So now we probably won't even get an opportunity this year to apply for that. This is the same grant that the borough did for the Turkey Hill Experience.