Updated after the jump: Councilman Cardenas explains his decision. Meanwhile, the market remains shuttered indefinitely.
'Tis the season for L.A. brick-and-mortar businesses to hate on those damned gypsy vendors who stop by once a week to sell their wares.
In the shadow of the Hollywood Farmers Market vs. L.A. Film School debate lies a smaller, trickier little neighborhood conflict up in the Valley. The Van Nuys Farmers Market is not your average fruits-and-veggies health stop: Its customers are among the 5,000-odd city employees and court-goers who visit the Civic Center complex every Thursday. And those customers want lunch, not groceries.
Market managers say that, because there's no nearby parking for shoppers, they need prepared food at lunch break to survive. However, a few restaurant chains on next-door Van Nuys Boulevard say the market's stealing their noontime business. Then there's the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council, who just thinks the market's trashy...
... and is glad for any reason to see it re-vamped.
About a month ago, according to market co-organizer Manny Hernandez, his business partner Rick Hernandez -- hoping to open another Van Nuys farmers market on Sundays in a city-owned parking lot -- paid a visit to City Councilman Tony Cardenas.
What Cardenas, Neighborhood Councilmember Penny Meyers and a representative from the District Attorney's office told him, though, was a lot more than "No" -- they said the original Van Nuys market would have to shut down at the end of December.
Al's Chicken owner Camille Mathis, with backing from Subway, Quizno's, Domino's Pizza and more, has been very loud about her discontent with the market.
Mathis told the LA Daily News:
"I love farmers markets, but this wasn't operating like the farmers markets in Beverly Hills or Studio City where you have produce, fresh fruit and vegetables for local residents. ... The majority of the booths were food vendors who were there to get the business from the courthouse, and it was definitely affecting us, and many of us felt that was our lunch business."
Manny says Cardenas and the Neighborhood Council have been urging the Van Nuys Farmers Market, ever since it opened, to feature more locally grown produce and fewer prepared foods and crafts.
"Every farmers market has its own characteristics, and ours is more of a lunchtime market," he says. "Two years ago, we had seven or eight farmers, but they were making $50 to $100, at the most, per day."
Neighborhood Council President Lydia Mathers says, when the council first dreamed up the market, it foresaw an end-of-day produce stop for people coming home from work -- especially since it's situated right along the MTA Orange Line.
"This has been ongoing for more than a year," Mathers says. "They were allowing a lot more swap-meet type stuff. ... We wanted a real farmers market. But because of the time they chose [10 a.m. to 2 p.m.], that wasn't possible."
She describes current vendors as "grungy," and says they hawk stuff like "purses, crummy jewelry, candles and T-shirts." However, she adds that she was also "never particularly impressed with the requests from the brick-and-mortar businesses" to shut down the market because it poses direct competition.
"The good ones were surviving," she says. "I don't see why we have to protect an institutionalized mediocrity."
Manny repeats that the market has merely adopted to the wants of the community, and that a key reason for all the non-food booths is that those same restaurants have been pressuring the city to pressure the market into shutting down the lunchtime food scene.
As far as shifting the market to a 3:30 p.m. slot, he says that -- from his experience in the area -- city employees just want to get home after work, and it's a somewhat sketchy homeless scene after dark.
"It's not worth my time to try," he says. "It's not a good place to be after dusk."
The Van Nuys Farmers Market has shrunk from about 10 prepared-food vendors and eight farmers when it first opened two years ago (one year before Al's Chicken and Subway) to a small handful of each.
Lunchtime options are all indie-run: there's Peruvian food, a taco stand, Korean BBQ and a gourmet-tamale tent. Only one or two farmers remain.
The market's listing on Farmer Net still describes its glory days:
Van Nuys Farmers Market is surrounded by 2 Superior Court buildings, Los Angeles City Hall, The Public Library, and LAPD Command Center. Market offers a large selection of fresh fruits, veggies, cheese & hummus, fresh baked goods & flowers, a variety of arts and crafts, and live entertainment. The market specializes in a diversity of freshly prepared ethic foods; such as, Korean BBQ, Greek Mediterranean, Tamales, Southern BBQ, Pupusas, Hawaiian BBQ, Mexican Huaraches & Tacos, Roasted Corn & Crapes, Bacon Wrapped Hot Dogs & Hot Link Sausages. Market is open year-round, rain or shine, and services Van Nuys, Sherman Oaks, Studio City and North Hollywood.
Neither Councilman Cardenas, his spokeswoman nor his director of urban planning has returned our calls, but the Daily News reports that "the marketplace, which was held for the last time on Thursday, will likely reopen in about a month. Plans call for it to be more of a produce market, featuring locally grown crops, and less of a flea market and crafts bazaar."
Since the Van Nuys Farmers Market is on city land, apparently Cardenas and his cohorts thought it within their power to shut the whole operation down cold-turkey. We'll give you their legal reasoning once we can get them on the phone.
Manny says he and Rick have been given no word on when or how they'll be able to get things rolling again.
Have you ever visited the Van Nuys farmers market? Would you miss the presence of lunch-food vendors or craft sellers?
Update: Councilman Cardenas says that market co-organizer Rick Hernandez, in the end, agreed to let city officials rethink the Van Nuys Farmers Market. Besides, according to Cardenas, the city gave the market permission to exist in the first place -- so the city can take it away.
"That quad is under the jurisdiction of the city," he says. "We gave them the permission to be there, and ... the fact that we allowed them to ebb and flow as they wished, as a result of that, it didn't fit well in the community."
Cardenas explains that the Neighborhood Council ("the same people who wanted it") and Van Nuys Boulevard restaurants started complaining at a volume he couldn't ignore any longer: "The complaints seemed to be very genuine -- very organic." (No pun intended.)
So when can the new, "improved" Van Nuys market be expected to pop up?
"As soon as we can get enough discourse from all the concerned parties and everyone involved," says Cardenas. "But until we can get to that place, there is not going to be a farmers market."