Q&A: Market House Trust - Part 1

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 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.


  1. It all sounds good but they have had the market for five years why has it taken so long to get this market house up and running? And make some money.

  2. If you were to get the vendors back,parking is still a big issue ,after the vendors take what parking there is ,what do the people wanting to visit the market house do for parking?

  3. Until they throw open the doors to any type of vendor, I think they will have an uphill battle. That's what I, as a customer, would like to see. I stop at Eastern Market just for the used Paperback book guy. We all go to roots for various reasons... I KNOW it can be a success.

  4. I would like to ask the Market House Trust a question. Name the businesses that the Columbia Market House produced in the last five years for the Columbia business district?

    1. Keagy's was there a few years ago, now they have a storefront on 4oo blk of Locust St, open Thu,Fri,Sat

  5. This could be a greater debate in Columbia then the Presidential Debate for 2016! It is great that the "Trust" wants to sit down and clear the air with the Columbia citizens.

  6. Who were the "Stakeholders" invited to this meeting? Was it Cindy from Burning Bridge Antiques, Columbia Kettle Works, State Theater Antiques, Hinkle's Pharmacy, etc.? Why are the days that Renae Sears worked tirelessly condemned as a influential asset of the hard work she gave to this market. When you could sit down and reminisce with my old friends at a picnic table. But the powers of negativity of success on the borough council made sure of it's failure.

  7. And the anonymous naysayers will always prevail, which is why the Market House will never be successful as a Market House.

    1. True so true. The Eors want to see it fail so they can say "I told ya it wouldn't work"

  8. For the love of God, Get rid of the market trust. Things went doooowwwnn when they got their personal agenda hands in there. They speak volumes now when they say all this crap about... no sinks, no refrigeration etc. gee, guys ...it was not there when you took on the duty as trust and had a vision. Its just that simple. Unfortunately, Columbia folks were asked to give you guys a shot, be patient, and now Dollars are blown, prides are shot and you guys have destroyed one of the most unique buildings in that town. The original trust stopped...why, because you select few on the current trust made sure of it. If you look at the minutes of all the meetings held and the questions asked to the trust... nothing has changed. Time does not help. Good people as vendors left because your vision was not on the path to draw good customers. The vendor who left because she couldn't pay her ride.. you are correct, because when you took over the business ora dropped and it was not 300 a week, but thanks for pointing out that you are costing people tons of money. I have lived in Columbia all my life and I have seen many things happen, come and go and so on... but this tops the cake. Why not take a bow and say, Borough, we the Trust give you back the market, as it is no longer a vision. George L.