The Fenton Street Market, a weekend staple for locally-sourced entertainment and shopping, may soon become a relic now that the county has said they would charge them facilities fees to operate.
The market’s founder, Hannah McCann, said they can’t afford to pay $1,250 per week next season to rent the plaza where Fenton Street Market has met since last October. Right now, she pays a weekly $50 administration fee.
The Silver Spring Regional Center agreed to waive any rental fee for the fledgling market because the Veteran’s Plaza and downtown Silver Spring Civic Building were brand new and they hoped to bring in more community activities and interest.
But recently, the county informed McCann that while she is welcome to apply for space next year, she would have to pay $125 per hour like other for-profit groups renting public facilities in the area, which are maintained and operated through usage fees and tax dollars.
McCann said the market, which is a Benefit Corporation, provides a wealth of services to the community. Local artists and entrepreneurs operate new businesses, young musicians play in front of their first live audiences, youth receive their first jobs and references, and people meet and discover their neighbors – McCann said every week in the market she overhears people saying, ‘”Oh, you’re on my listserv but I’ve never met you.’”
Fenton Street Market’s staff cleans the Veteran’s Plaza each week before and after the market, and McCann added that their business makes the area safer for kids and families.
“And so what will happen is what happened before. The plaza will be empty, it’ll need security, it’ll be dirty, and it’ll be an expensive, empty block of concrete in the center of downtown,” she said.
Through October 29, the 60 vendors will continue to set up their crafts, artwork and other wares every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Each pays $40 per week to participate, but McCann said this money goes toward the market’s infrastructure, staffing, advertising, insurance and other expenses.
“We’re already in the upper tier of what area markets charge,” McCann said. “While we’re doing very well, we’re not Eastern Market. We’re not Capitol Hill.”
Each week, 2,500 shoppers bring the vendors a total of nearly $50,000, according to the market’s commissioned 2011 Economic Impact Report, although McCann said the market itself profits only $36.
Fenton Street Market’s presence generates more than $1.9 million annually for surrounding businesses, according to the report.
“I don’t want there to be sacrifices in the schools so Fenton Street Market can be on the plaza,” said McCann, a resident of Silver Spring. “I wouldn’t be asking to return next year if I didn’t think it was good for the county and good for Silver Spring to have us there.”
Ginny Gong, the county’s community public facilities director, said the market can’t receive something for free that other community groups, comprised of 90 percent non-profits, have to pay for.
“I’ve been in this job for more than a decade and this kind of an opportunity is very, very unique,” Gong said, adding, “People have commented. People are always looking to see why someone has an opportunity and the rest don’t.”
Because the arts market occupies the Plaza for about 10 hours each week, Gong said there is a loss of revenue and for other community groups, a loss of opportunity.
“Our job is to make sure all the users are treated fair and charged fees appropriately,” Gong said. “And we have guidelines we follow, and the Fenton Street Market is one group using a facility.”
McCann said when she first relocated from a parking garage in Fenton Village to the Veteran’s Plaza, she expected that as business improved, she’d be able to pay the county more for the space, and even suggested recently that she should pay a higher fee.
“I can afford a reasonable increase in rent. I have ideas of ways we can leverage the markets popularity,” she said. “But I can’t afford an increase of 26 times what we pay now, and I don’t think any market could, anyone at all.”
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) responded Tuesday to Councilmember At Large Hans Riemer’s letter asking for support for the Fenton Street Market. However, the county can’t lower their fee further than they already have – offering the entire plaza for the hourly rate of half the space, according to the letter. McCann said she can’t find another location for the market and it will likely have to close.
“It’s very surprising to me that there isn’t more appreciation for the opportunity and for all the weeks of free use that have been afforded. I guess at the end of the day, we try to treat everybody fair and maybe some people don’t wanna be treated fair,” Gong said. “They want special treatment.”