By Paul Gable
The move of the S.C. State Farmers Market to Lexington County in 2010 is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with S.C. politics.
The battle between Richland County and Lexington County over the new site for the market included allegations against then Rep. Nikki Haley of concealing income from a state contractor on her Statement of Economic Interests.
Haley was exonerated of ethics charges associated with that income by the S.C. House Ethics Committee in June 2012 in what can only be described by anyone who watched the proceedings as a “rigged” hearing.
More land was added to the initial site last fall when the legislative Joint Bond Review Committee approved spending $7 million taxpayer dollars to purchase an additional nine and one-half acres from a large political donor to state politicians. At least part of that land was a former ‘super fund’ site that has reportedly been cleaned up.
Now, however, maybe the biggest black eye in this political boondoggle saga is how the farmers market is not living up to its motto of “We make it affordable for small business to do business.”
The owner of one of those small businesses recently wrote a letter to S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers complaining about the plight of her business at the new market as well as the plight of other small businesses who have been strong supporters of the market for years.
The letter was shared with the “Azar Newsletter” who shared it with us for public exposure of the problem:
Dear Commissioner Weathers,
Thank you for your response to my email. I did appreciate speaking with Martin Eubanks, however I am disappointed to not have had the opportunity to speak with you as you had committed to in your previous response. As of today, February 19th my business, Bringing You Baskets and Faithful Foods, Inc., in business since 1986 and which has a current lease from the SC State Farmers Market, which has now been broken by YOUR Department, Earnest and Ann Produce, and Canebrake Farms are all tightly housed in the old Jacobs Country Store space. Also as of today, we have never received anything official or on paper regarding the future of our businesses at the Farmers Market. Ann of Ernest and Ann Produce (a full time-forty year vendor) has yet to meet the new management. We were promised “packets” which were to be received 2 weeks ago and have never arrived. Yesterday a blanket press release/email was sent from 5 Rivers Market and today actual info about the Farmers Market location was finally posted on their webpage (fiveriversmarket.com). I hope you will take a few minutes to navigate through all of that confusion and then you will truly appreciate the statement “We make it affordable for Small Business to do business”. What a slap in the face to those businesses that have been supporting the market faithfully, diligently paying rent, organizing and underwriting Pavilion events, and who still have no idea if our products will meet approval or where we will be in a month and a half.
Due to my fun move from the Pavilion into the country store with not so much as 1 day notice and might I add, just before Valentine’s Day, my biggest week of the year, I was forced to donate thousands of dollars worth of product and equipment-simply because I had nowhere to store it. We are currently moving our residence and commercial kitchen to Swansea so timing couldn’t possibly have been worse! Now upon perusing the info, I find I will be responsible for one time non-refundable improvements to the building should my products be deemed “acceptable”. Why is the beautiful wood siding paid for by taxpayer funds throughout the market not suitable? Plus, I just had to tear down $500.00 worth of wooden fencing that encompassed my store!!!!! And I won’t be able to use my own displays but will have to have them built for my area and then they become property of 5 Rivers should I choose to leave. Then add a membership fee, commission… Are you kidding me? I’ve been at this market in one form or another for over 3 years-long enough to know what great potential it has and how poorly it’s been run. This is about the least small business friendly arrangement I have ever seen.
As for being a show place for SC Specialty Foods, as a long time member of the SC Specialty Foods Association—one of the longest members of the organization, former midlands director and current Secretary Treasurer I can promise you that this will be viewed as totally out of reach for most of our members. We are mainly comprised of small family farmers and producers. Many of us are already at the Orangeburg market and have been for nearly 2 years. I personally have seen a 32% decrease in sales there and many Specialty Foods members have pulled completely out since they haven’t sold enough to even pay the rent each month. Surely wish y’all had spoken with some of us. Plus, we are all TAXPAYERS. This design is a win- win situation for the new establishment and a knife to the back of small business. Just makes me wonder what other sort of deals were made for this change to come about.
My last letter was mild. Now I am truly angry and insulted. What I worked for nearly 30 years to establish has been virtually destroyed in 2 weeks. The market not only broke my hammer, you broke my heart. So much for being small business friendly. Right now I am ashamed that all of my 160 specialty foods mixes have the SC certified seal on them. That and a quarter might be worth a stick of gum nowadays but doesn’t pull much weight at the market. I may be able to afford a few shelves or a tiny space in the New Market—if my products are “worthy”. Gone are any hopes of having my entire nearly 30 year store there. Who can afford 1/3 the space for more rent, setup fees, new and approved-only displays, a commission (yes even if I have my own cash register and work there everyday I would still owe a commission), membership fees, additional charges for water/electricity. Soon I expect they’ll tack on a charge for using the restroom. Would be a great moneymaker!
In closing, I would just like to assure you that my ultra conservative family members and I will be doing something this November that none of us have ever done before; we will be campaigning and voting for a Democrat………whomever is your opponent!
Heidi S. Black