A two-horse townWritten by Julia Merchant
A rift that splintered the town’s longtime farmers market in downtown Waynesville into two opposing groups of vendors continues to persist this season, resulting in two separate markets that will operate just half a mile apart.
“They’re going to have their market, and we’re going to have ours,” said vendor Judy West matter-of-factly.
The markets both start on May 13, and will operate during the same time period on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
The split occurred at the end of last season, precipitated by the market losing its long-time spot on Main Street. A philosophical division over the direction of the market had been brewing for some time. When it was time to find a new location, factions went in two directions: one to the parking lot of Haywood Regional Arts Theater and one to the American Legion, just half a mile apart.
The two groups have yet to reconcile.
“We have not had any communication with the other market,” said Joanne Meyer, director of what has been renamed Haywood’s Historic Farmers Market. “We just went on from where we started at the end of last season, and took it forward.”
Whether the community can support two markets so close to one another remains to be seen, though both groups express confidence in the viability of their own respective market.
“I think ideally it would be better if we had one market, but I think the markets have split, and I think that people will shop both markets,” Meyer said. “They’ll have their customers, and we’ll have ours. The value-added products will bring a lot of interest to our market.”
Indeed, that’s the major difference between the two farmers markets. Haywood’s Historic Market sells baked goods, cheese, meat, and even fish, from vendors both in and out of the county. Meyer says more than 30 vendors have applied to hawk their goods this year, and there’s ample room in the HART parking lot for more.
The Waynesville Tailgate Market, as it is called, may not offer value-added products, but it’s promoting itself as the original, strictly Haywood County growers market.
“This is the one in operation since 1985,” West said. “We’re strictly Haywood County growers, and Haywood County grown.”
The Waynesville Tailgate Market will continue to offer the same goods it always has.
“We growers of Haywood County wanted to keep our own market, and we wanted to stick strictly with the fresh fruits and veggies,” West said. “We didn’t want the value-added products like jams, jellies, salsas and everything else. We just didn’t want to go down that route.”
That doesn’t mean the Waynesville Tailgate Market lacks diversity in its offerings. West alone will sell dahlias, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, potatoes, onions, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, and asparagus this season. She said more than 40 vendors have applied to sell at the market.
Despite the competition, Meyer believes that a desire to eat locally will help her more recently established market sustain itself.
“The response was very good last year, and I do think it will actually grow,” Meyer said. “There are a lot of people who are really interested in buying local food. I think it’s going to do really well this year.”
Origins of the split
The rift between the markets started when a group of vendors created the Waynesville Tailgate Market Committee to study the possibility of moving the burgeoning market from its home in the parking lot of Badcock Furniture on Main Street to a flatter, larger location. Some vendors also wanted to expand their selections to include meats, cheeses, baked goods and other value-added products.
But the idea wasn’t supported by a segment of market vendors, including West, who favored continuing to operate the market as it had been for nearly 20 years. The group was opposed to moving the market or beefing up the selection of goods, and objected to an expansion which would bring in competition from other counties.
The vendors’ case for staying put was complicated by a request from the owners of Badcock, who wanted the tailgate market moved due to limited parking space and liability concerns. But on the day vendors were supposed to vacate the Badcock lot, some refused to budge, culminating in a tense standoff with police.
The vendors finished up the day and were told they had to find a new spot. Meanwhile, the Waynesville Tailgate Committee and about half the vendors had already moved to a new home in the parking lot of the HART theater. The other vendors, however, refused to join them, and the next week set up shop just a half mile away in the parking lot of the American Legion.