Move For Beloved Farmers Market Prompts Concern
The Bethesda Central Farm Market will begin operating at Bethesda Elementary this Sunday.
This Sunday, the Bethesda Central Farm Market will mark its grand re-opening for the summer season at a new location – Bethesda Elementary School. And while market operators say they’re confident loyal patrons will embrace the new spot, some Bethesda residents say it will cut off the market from the heart of the downtown.
According to county officials, a temporary permit issued by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation that allowed the market to operate on Elm Street on Sundays was expiring, prompting the location shift. The permit allowed the market to move to Elm Street during construction on a nearby parking garage owned by Federal Realty where the market had previously operated.
But the move also has to do with easing up traffic flow with the pending construction of a major public parking garage at the corner of Bethesda and Woodmont Avenues.
The construction project at Lots 31 and 31A, launching April 10, will mean the 20-month closure of Woodmont Avenue between Bethesda Avenue and Miller Avenue beginning in early June. Officials are trying to avoid street closures near the construction site, which will also mean some of the downtown summer festivals will need to move elsewhere in Bethesda, according to Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center.
“We don’t want to make things more complicated than they already are with Woodmont closed,” Hartman said.
Most patrons are happy about the market’s move to Bethesda Elementary, where parking will be available, said market operator Mitch Berliner. It’s also closer to the Edgemoor neighborhood, which is more convenient for shoppers who live there, he said.
“At first, with the idea we had to move, I got a little nervous,” said Berliner. “But when I got all the feedback from the patrons, I thought, okay, I’m not nervous."
Wednesday, however, the Action Committee for Transit issued a statement blasting MCDOT for requiring the move and questioning whether the market could survive a move away from “the heart of the downtown.”
"The closure [of Woodmont Avenue] was denounced by the Action Committee for Transit as unnecessary and harmful to residents and businesses. The market will move to the parking lot of Bethesda Elementary School, half a mile away from the street life of downtown Bethesda. Customers will come and go by car, no longer bringing business to local stores," the group wrote in a press release.
The market draws up to 1,000 customers on a typical Sunday morning in the summer—a time when the downtown area wouldn't otherwise be busy, Tracey Johnstone of Action Committee for Transit told Patch.
“I love the market and its current location; it's a lot of fun and I always run into my neighbors,” wrote Ronit Dancis, a downtown Bethesda resident and ACT member, in an email to Patch. “It's a great place to meet folks and then grab lunch or coffee afterwards. We're all usually on foot because it's so close and convenient.”
The move to Bethesda Elementary will prompt more patrons to drive, Dancis said. “The market will still be great, but it won't be part of the downtown scene,” she wrote.
Hartman said the new location is walkable and easily accessible to all of downtown Bethesda’s restaurants and amenities, along with Metro and a stop on the Bethesda Circulator.
“I don’t think this is going to stop people from stopping by the market and going out to eat," he said.
Lot 31 construction will mean that the majority of festivals taking place near the site this summer will need to move elsewhere in Bethesda, Hartman said. Officials are working with the Bethesda Rotary Club and the Bethesda Urban Partnership to move the first two festivals affected – Strut your Mutt and Imagination Bethesda. They’re also working with Federal Realty to manage operating their signature arts festival near Bethesda Row.
When it comes to the market, which is opening a second location in White Flint, Hartman said he expects it will continue to thrive. “It’ s a great location in the heart of downtown Bethesda,” Hartman said. “I think it’s going to draw a heck of a lot of people.”
The Bethesda Central Farm Market will operate at Bethesda Elementary on Sundays between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. beginning April 1. For more information, visit www.bethesdacentralfarmmarket.com.
Will the market's move to Bethesda Elementary affect you? Will it be more or less convenient? Do you think it could impact the market or downtown businesses? Tell us in the comments.