The summer scene on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis this year will be missing one of its most prized features — a farmers market.
A staple since 1986, the Nicollet Mall farmers market is moving to Hennepin Avenue while the bustling pedestrian corridor undergoes a $50 million reconstruction. The market, which operates on Thursdays, opens in its new location on May 7 and will remain there for two seasons.
Growers are concerned the move could cause them to lose a substantial amount of business after building a reliable customer base on Nicollet. Some make 25 percent of their annual revenue from that Thursday market alone. Some vendors, such as flower sellers, rely on it even more.
“The biggest concern was, ‘How will people know we’re there?’ ” said Sandy Hill, spokeswoman for the Central Minnesota Vegetable Growers Association, which operates the market. “How will we have our customers understand they have to walk another block?”
The market will run from 5th to 10th streets, with larger concentrations of stalls expected between 5th and 6th streets and 8th and 9th streets, based on preliminary plans.
“We’re going to be able to accommodate all the vendors, but maybe not as much space as they have been used to on Nicollet,” said Greg Goeke, the city’s director of property services.
The relocated farmers market will kick off more changes as construction on the mall heats up this summer.
The city anticipates beginning utility work on July 1, a job that includes moving manholes, relocating fire hydrants and installing a new stormwater sewer system.
David Frank, the city’s economic development director, said local buses will be rerouted in late May — though their new locations haven’t been finalized.
“It’s going to be really dusty, it’s going to be really loud this year and next year,” Frank said.
Bicyclists can continue using the mall throughout 2015, he said, but will be rerouted in 2016. Walkers will be able to use the mall throughout the reconstruction, though one side of the street may be blocked in areas. Construction is expected to finish in 2017.
Frank said Hennepin was chosen for the farmers market because of its wide sidewalks, which are nonetheless narrower than much of Nicollet Mall, and proximity to the downtown core. Marquette Avenue’s sidewalks would have required putting the market stalls in the street — a scenario ultimately deemed unsafe.
The Downtown Council and its affiliated Downtown Improvement District intend to help spread the word about the new farmers market location, President Steve Cramer said. “Hennepin Avenue will be a great location for the market to continue to operate on Thursdays as Nicollet Mall undergoes changes,” Cramer said in a statement.
The last time there was a major overhaul of Nicollet Mall, in 1990, growers remained on the street but squeezed together in one section.
Picked crops ‘need to be sold’
Dehn’s Garden sells fresh herbs, baby lettuce, kale, Swiss chard and a variety of other vegetables at the Nicollet Mall market and at the city’s primary market site west of Target Field. It is all grown on their farm of just over 100 acres in Andover. Other growers travel in from as far away as Wisconsin.
Co-owner Bonnie Dehn said they make about 25 percent of their annual income from the Thursday downtown market. “There are other growers that depend on the Nicollet Mall market for nearly 75 percent of their income,” Dehn said.
After growing her customer base over several decades, she’s worried about the new location.
“Now that we’re over at Hennepin Avenue, our customers may not use that avenue to — first of all — shop early morning, and also … they may not be able to find us,” Dehn said.
And the new site will make it more difficult for farmers to pack up and leave midday in the event of slow sales or selling all their produce because Hennepin has more car traffic and congestion than Nicollet Mall.
The ability to leave in the event of slow sales is important to either get the items refrigerated or sell them elsewhere, Dehn said.
“When they pick [produce], it needs to be sold,” said Hill, the organization spokeswoman.
The downtown market, which runs from May to November, operates from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays.
The city’s main market, on E. Lyndale Avenue, will open on April 25. It is open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. — though it is most popular on the weekends.