Ten months after opening with a $ 3.5 million renovation complete, Columbia Market House has left several vendors, welcoming buyers just one day a week and this summer will have a new guide.
Despite these challenges for the project, set as a cornerstone for revitalizing Colombia, district officials spare no effort and argue that the market has a positive future.
CHI St. Joseph Children’s Health, which manages and operates Market House at 15 S. 3rd St., recently announced it is leaving the post on June 30, citing the need to focus time and resources on other mission-oriented projects. For example, CHI has an agreement to purchase the former Immaculate Heart Monastery in 1834 Lititz Pike for $ 3.5 million and plans to turn it into a school with first to 12 classes.
Built in 1869, the 9,400-square-foot Columbia Market House operated as a market until 1996, when it closed amid fears about costs and declining suppliers. It reopened with fanfare in 2005, but closed again just before Christmas in December 2017, when it had 15 vendors, including some selling jewelry and wares. The area-owned facility reopened after renovations in May 2021 under the direction of CHI St. Joseph’s Health.
CHI, a company that improves the health of children and families in Lancaster County, has agreed to take over day-to-day operations and develop a farm market with fresh food suppliers as part of efforts to promote healthy eating in Colombia.
“Now we are moving from managing the TSI market house to city management. It has always been a plan, but CHI has stated that they will not comply with their five-year agreement, so we will speed up the process, ”said District Chief Mark Steevers.
For CHI there are no penalties for withdrawing from the agreement, only a 120-day notice is required.
Under the original agreement, CHI was tasked with managing the market for five years and agreed to provide up to $ 65,000 in annual funding, in addition to revenue from activities and programs, for operating and maintenance costs. The county is responsible for identifying the necessary funds other than the funding provided by the CHI for Market House operations.
CHI also made a one-time contribution of $ 100,000 to new markets, purchasing tables and chairs and other gadgets for the restaurant in the market.
“If there are costs above those costs or costs that are not included or covered by the agreement, the district will pay those costs,” Stevers said.
The agreement states that in the event of an overspend between the CHI and the district, a financial plan will be developed to determine how these costs will be covered.
“In terms of growth, this is by no means a failure for the district. This is an internal issue that affects the leadership of the House Market. The importance and impact of the market on downtown business remains strong, ”Stevers said.
CHI St. Joseph’s children’s health president Phil Garapaoulas said that while the public may think his organization is ending relations with the district only a year later, it has been working with district officials on a market project since 2018 when they first discussed revitalization Home market.
“Since then, four years ago, we have worked tirelessly to realize this vision with both financial investment and the enormous efforts of our staff, and we have succeeded in many ways,” Harapoulos said.
District officials, Stevers said, are working on a market management plan and are considering several management options, but are not yet ready to announce a solution.
“Operating costs are now the responsibility of the district. We will also receive all proceeds from vendors, restaurants and special events, ”Stevers said.
Asked whether the income from renting market stands was enough to keep the market open, Stevers said that, given the fullness of the stands and the many special events a year, it is possible that the income is enough to cover operating costs. costs. .
“As in any such enterprise, there may be years when it is underdeveloped and the difference will fall on the district. Over the years, we generate more than operating costs, these funds will be kept in a special account for market use only, ”Stevers said.
Overcoming the health problems of the pandemic
The pandemic played a role in the fact that the market reduced working hours by reducing working hours, which also played a role in the movement of some initial suppliers.
The market was open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. However, a few months after it resumed work after renovations, the district council voted not to open on Wednesdays due to a lack of vendors.
Some absences were due to illness. Horapoulos recalled one time when several booths were closed.
“It turned out that three or more booth holders gave a positive result at COVID that week, with which little can be done. Of course, we do not want the sellers to get sick and spread the disease to their customers, ”Harapoulas said.
If there is an illness or an emergency in the family, Garapoulos said, market stands that are maintained by one or two people, whether employees or the owners themselves, have no choice but to work that day.
The pandemic has also created challenging circumstances for sellers, ranging from consumers who cut costs and are less likely to shop in person, to supply chain problems that have limited supplies of certain goods.
“COVID was tough,” Garapoulos said. “New businesses have a high failure rate – around 50% – starting a new business in the midst of a pandemic doesn’t make things easier, so I think these days the probability of failure is over 50% and I think you’ve seen them play with suppliers on market. I don’t think the bounce rate was quite 50%, but it’s higher than we would like. “
Fewer sellers, fewer buyers
Walking on a recent Saturday morning seemed much easier than in the first months after the market opened.
The market from November is open every Saturday from 7 to 15 hours. The exception is Gypsy Kitchen, an anchor restaurant with 100 seats in the market, which is open from 7.00 to 15.00 on Saturdays and from 17.00 to 21.00 on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.
When Market House opened in 2021 on Remembrance Day weekend, the number of vendors matched the desired types of vendors identified in a community survey of more than 1,000 residents. The community survey also determined the opening hours on Wednesdays and Saturdays set at the time of the market opening.
Since then, five vendors have left: Andy’s Market, Gearhouse Brewing Co., Just 4 Paws and Hooves, Lilly’s Produce and Misty Mountain Bakery.
“People left for different reasons. The lack of sales on Wednesdays led to suppliers asking us to stop work that day. They lost money every Wednesday, and Saturday’s sales did not compensate for their losses on weekdays, ”Harapoulos said.
Eventually, suppliers received a 20% reduction in rents due to shorter working days. According to Harapoulas, some suppliers – who advocated for change – then used the closure decision on Wednesdays to terminate their leases.
Elizabeth Ann Lenz, who owns Just 4 Paws & Hooves, closed her booth at the market last November.
“They violated the lease when they decided to close on Wednesdays and open only one day. It was bad management, plus they kind of turned the place into a food court. You can have lunch, but there is nowhere to take the food you need to cook for the week, such as meat. In principle, what they offered us in the beginning was not what we received and did not offer, ”Lenz said.
No intention to close the door
Meanwhile, even with declining attendance, Colombian Mayor Leo Lutz said the Market House stays there to stay because it is popular with residents, visitors and vendors.
“We do not intend to close the market. We need to do more marketing and advertising for people outside of Colombia. The market has changed a bit, some suppliers have left and some want to come. As the weather improves the situation starts to grow and when COVID starts to decrease, people will come out more … then things will get better, ”Lutz said.
Officials are working to recruit vendors that match the reviews and recommendations they have received, and find a variety of vendors to ensure the market stays alive.
“The good news is that we will have new stands that will add energy to the market. I have heard from some residents that they want more stalls offering prepared food and more local farm produce and produce. We are now working to include such booths. And with the onset of spring, we know that the number of visitors will only increase, “- said Stevers.
The newest member of the supplier group is Jason Stone, owner of The Productive Peasant Farm Co., a semi-agricultural farm that grows vegetables, fruits and herbs without chemicals in Lancaster County.
Breakaway Farms and Butchery, located in Mount Joy, offers its meat in the PPFC market.
Longtime Colombian resident Mandy Eisenhower saw in the market house an opportunity to realize her dream of selling bakery products. She recently opened Eisenhaur’s Sweets and Eats and is pleased with how the community has responded.
“On the opening day we had a big turnout from the community, and by the time of closing everything was sold out. We are just excited to be able to give the Colombian community what they are looking for in the market. We received a lot of positive feedback, ”Eisenhower said.
Eisenhower said she has been keeping a close eye on what’s been going on in the market since it opened, and has heard comments about what people would like to see there.
“I wondered why not me. I can give what they want. And if we support and promote each other as suppliers and use each other’s products to create new offerings, then we will be fine, the community will grow, and the market will return to its glory days. I know I will not go anywhere, this is my hometown, ”Eisenhower said.
Although the CHI management agreement expires in June, the organization will still be present in the market as a supplier with two booths – Isidore and Maria, which is a grocery booth, and the St. Joseph’s Convent Bakery, which will offer its products. bakery products.
The local community currently runs regular marketing for the Market House, including quarterly home mailings, local community ads, and Facebook and Instagram posts and ads. At least once a month, special events are held, including music vendors and pop-ups, as well as special market days. Vendors are also encouraged to market their own booths and create their own customer base in the community.