Q&A: Market House Trust - Part 3

The following Trust members were present at this meeting:
Chair - Cleon Berntheizel
Vice Chair - Don Haines
Treasurer - Elaine Beckley
Director - Jeanne Cooper
Director - Kellan Kernisky
Member at large - Bill Collister

SPY: What steps has the Trust taken to make the market mixed-use?
KERNISKY: That word "mixed-use" has been recently brought up, because in RFQ that's something that is mentioned, but we're still working on the RFQ. We're still working on getting that released. So, at this point no steps have been taken to actually do any type of mixed-use. No steps have been taken by us. It's not to say we won't move in that direction if there are some proposals that come in that have great ideas. The term "mixed-use" can mean different things to different people. I imagine it being a mix of a farmers' market and something else, whether it be a small restaurant or a small taproom. We're anticipating from the RFQ process to get people who will respond and say, "Hey, I love this, but I don't need 8500 square feet. Could you do 6000 . . . "  It's a term that gives a little bit of flexibility.



SPY: What recent steps has the Trust taken to be more transparent and to promote the market?
COOPER: For the advertising, we would love to advertise on special dates, monthly events, but we don't have the income. It's as simple as that. We've asked council two consecutive years for advertising money, but we were turned down both years. However, in their defense, it is not their job to subsidize our advertising. They don't do that for other businesses in town. Again, if we have a full market we have plenty of money we can do that.
BERNTHEIZEL: We do things for advertising. We just had to cut back on what the market did originally, advertising in The Merchandiser every week. The one year we spent $8,000. The Columbia brochure - the market house is in that. They paid a hundred dollars to be in that publication. We're looking at the light box that's outside the visitors' center right now. We do those things, free or paid, in small numbers.  We just thought it was important not to spend money on something and it's not making a difference. What happens, you come into market and there's just not enough here to come back the next time. When I was on council, we closed the market in the mid-90s because there was a $16-20,000 deficit. That's when they started doing some studies.  A couple of years later, they did the study in 2005.  They got it back open. They spent a million dollars on the exterior.  They did very little on the interior. They should have done a whole package, and then the neighborhood market would've had a chance. They basically opened it the same way as when it closed. Very little services to vendor stands. No water. When the borough started having issues with market managers, they said we have to get this away from the borough. And that's when the Trust was born.
BECKLEY: That's why we were born. Because they were done with it. They didn't want politics in it anymore. They wanted to wash their hands of it. They didn't want it costing taxpayers any money anymore.


COOPER: [Criticism] hurts our feelings as the Trust because we're just a bunch of volunteers trying to do a good thing. But it kills the market. It absolutely kills the market. They [the vendors] are the ones who are losing. We don't have a financial stake in the market. These people all went into money, borrowed money, did whatever they had to do to start the business. And it hurts them. That’s what we can't make anybody understand is that it just comes back on the market.
BECKLEY: And it's always our fault. When a vendor leaves, they don't take accountability for why their business failed. It's easier to just blame us.
BERNTHEIZEL: They all don’t fail. They move on to something else.
BECKLEY: But think about it. If you were to rent a building on Locust Street to run your business out of. What are your expectations of your landlord? That's what we are. Do you expect us to pay your advertising if you moved your business into Locust Street: pay to have the bathrooms cleaned, pay to supply the bathrooms, pay to remove the snow? That's another reason that our meetings aren't open to the public. There are things we talk about like this. How much work would we get done if we had 20 people sitting in the audience wanting to quiz us? We would not get anything done.
COOPER: The market and the Trust are two different entities. They're not the same thing. The market house is the vendors - people trying to do business. The Trust is the management company for the vendors. We’re not the same thing.
BECKLEY: We technically should be meeting once a quarter by our bylaws.
COOPER: We meet twice a month.
BERNTHEIZEL: Just to keep ahead on things and to try to keep fires from coming up. And because we want to get things done, as well.
BECKLEY: They understand how much time we put in, how much listening we do.
HAINES: And we’re all volunteers.

COOPER: Regarding transparency, I think we're transparent. However, there are a lot of misconceptions I'd like to clear up on behalf of the Trust. We, unlike the borough, are not funded by tax dollars.  We raise the money, and we accept donations. We're not subject to the rules of the borough but by the terms of our contract with the borough.  We're not subject to sunshine laws. We're a different kind of entity. We're nonprofit. We're not elected.
BERNTHEIZEL: It's almost like the Chamber of Commerce. I can't just go to a board meeting of the Chamber of Commerce, unless I'm invited.
COOPER: In an effort to calm some citizens’ concerns, we do make our financials and minutes available to the borough. We're not required to make our minutes available, but we do. They're public record and available to be viewed. You may have to pay for them, but they're there. The members of borough council are invited to our meetings, and our vendor rep and our market manager are invited to the beginning of our meetings to keep us in the loop and the happenings within the market house so that we all know what's going on all the time.

BECKLEY: Council is not invited to our meetings. We agreed that we would invite a certain councilperson every month and we've done that more months than we haven’t, and that person never comes so most times we don't even extend the invitation anymore. They actually decided when they wrote the contract that there is not allowed to be an elected official on our board. They put that in the contract. That was their choice. On the board, not every member gets to vote, but every director gets to vote. We have a board member at large and we have a market manager and we have the stand holder rep. They don't vote.
COOPER: Generally speaking, our meetings are not public. Neither are the meetings for Central Market, the Columbia Library, the SVCC, the CDDC, etc., but no one calls them out, only the Trust. We have nothing to hide, but we like to try to get as much accomplished as we can. We’re all volunteers and only have so much time.


SPY: What do you want the public to know?
BERNTHEIZEL: Our goal as the Trust is to keep the market - in some shape or form - open. And to grow it, if it’s a mixed-use, or if it becomes an entire market. We don't have a city around us to support us like Lancaster or York.
COOPER: All the drama - all it does is hurt the vendors.
BERNTHEIZEL: Who knows what the future might bring. It might not end up being mixed-use.
BECKLEY: If the community is not going to support that, maybe it becomes something else that people will support.  Maybe it’ll be a restaurant. When we get responses to the RFQ that's what's really going to be interesting to me. The request for qualifications is a step before the RFP because it removes the financial risk.
COLLISTER: I think you're going to get concepts and ideas - this is what we think will work and so forth. We’re not going to spend money on drafting a business plan, or how much it’s going to cost to do, or anything like that. This is what we think it’ll be.
COOPER: Once you do the RFQ, then they have to put their money up front and do all the work that needs to go into the RFP. So they have to put together a proposal.
BECKLEY: That's where I think people didn’t understand maybe what this was and the public hasn’t really gotten behind it, because they have to understand that this is exciting. It could be anything. It could be an upscale restaurant. It could be a traditional farmers' market. Full and healthy - running well. It could be a brewery. It could be a mix of uses.

9 comments:

  1. "We raise the money". Doesn't the boro give money to the trust?
    "I think we're transparent" OR "Generally speaking, our meetings are not public" sounds contradictory to me.
    “They all don’t fail. They move on to something else.” Truth is that many left because of the miss-trust with the trust.
    I like the thought that the trust is like a landlord. Normally, if a landlord fails, the property goes to someone else. I would say that the trust has failed. I think I understand what the trust tried to do but I think it was too much change expected at one time. As a business owner, I pay for my mistakes. I think the trust should move on and let someone else try. In business, there is term called “doubling down”. In layman’s terms it means the owner will risk it all for his idea to sell his product. It’s usually a big mistake to risk a business on a dream instead of listening to your customers.

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  2. Ok. So Cooper says: " The market and the Trust are two different entities. They're not the same thing. The market house is the vendors - people trying to do business. The Trust is the management company for the vendors. We’re not the same thing."

    and then Benrtheizel says: "Our goal as the Trust is to keep the market - in some shape or form - open. And to grow it, if it’s a mixed-use, or if it becomes an entire market."

    So which is it? Is the trust concerned about the VENDORS or the MARKET HOUSE itself?

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    Replies
    1. Those two aspects aren't contradictory.

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    2. They also don't really agree. What is the purpose of the trust? Their mission statement, if you will. Are they about having a viable market (stands to buy goods and services) or are they concerned about the building itself (bricks & mortar)? Both?

      Let's say the market fails (looking pretty likely and a possibility that should have been explored in this Q&A). The last vendor closes up shop and hits the lights on the way out. Will the trust dissolve? Is there a purpose to it anymore? If there's no standholders then there's no 'market'.

      Second scenario. Let's say a restaurant wants to move in and use the entire market house building. Now we have someone moving in that is not using the building as a market. Does the trust have a purpose for existing then? Will they be involved? What if the restaurant wants to make big changes to the building itself? Where does the trust figure in? Do they?

      The main problem I see with the trust is that they have no definitive description. They just kind of exist. That ambiguity is probably breeding much of the mistrust.

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    3. If that's what you think the problem is, WHO do you think created and defined that Trust? YOUR elected officials.

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    4. I don't care who created and defined the trust, even if they were *YOUR* elected officials. Just be nice if the trust members could agree on what they are supposed to be doing.

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    5. Again, YOUR elected officials don't seem to agree on what they are supposed to be doing either. How long is Jeff going to be allowed to collect his paycheck for not doing his job? Worse yet, placing the Borough in litigious situations. But no, let's bitch about the Trust and the market house instead!

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    6. ^^ So, I wonder which trust member this is?

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  3. Mistakes made: Can we learn from our mistakes?
    Parking: Biggest problem. Look at the size of other markets' parking areas. Humungus!!! Can we give an inch to get a mile. Please... can police cars and the borough workers park on the streets when the market is open.
    Socializing: Taking out the picnic tables. We NEED people to "linger" there. To get a decent place for families to sit and eat.
    Open times: A market should only be open one day. but considering the low flow of traffic this market needs to be open two to three days so we can pay our rent. Everybody should be there for those three days. If one can't be there they need to find someone to watch their stand while they attend their situations. It won't work when only a few stands are open on Fridays. Do we stay open on Fridays? Very crucial vendors were asked to leave because they couldn't be open on Sundays. We needed and still need the vegetable stand. What's a market without produce?
    Advertising: Should be done out side of Columbia. Let's face it, Columbia is a lower income area. We need to bring in traffic from other towns.
    Compare our market to other markets. We are small and without the proper vendors. There should be winter hours and summer hours. Winter... Saturdays and Sundays, 10am - 3pm. Summer hours could be Friday, Saturdays and Sundays, 10am - 3pm. We need to stay a market not a flea market and we should have a person to greet and be there for all, all of the time.
    Yours truly,
    Linda Fetter
    Fetters' Findings
    We've been at this Market House longer than anyone else and have seen a lot of mistakes, big and small. Lots of dos and don'ts. I feel as though the vendors know more than the trust or borough, because we're trying and want to succeed at our businesses.

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