At its meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023, Kingston City Council approved a plan which will see the City assume control of the Kingston Public Market, beginning in 2024. According to a staff report distributed in advance of that meeting, the City will once again oversee the operations of the Public Market, with Loving Spoonful set to end its agreement with the City on December 31, 2023.
Last December, councillors approved a plan which saw the City award a contract to Loving Spoonful to operate the public market. “The contract was awarded through a Request For Proposal (RFP) which enabled Loving Spoonful to operate the Public Market and collect all vendors fees,” the staff report noted. While the RFP did not include any operational funding from the City, the municipality did eventually offer “a one-time financial support of $30,000” to the organization.
According to the report, the contract between Loving Spoonful and the City began in early spring 2023. Throughout its first year as operator of the market, Loving Spoonful reportedly noted “a number of challenges,” such as “financial sustainability” as well as special events in Springer Market Square which impacted market days. By late October, Loving Spoonful served notice to the City “that it did not intend to renew the Public Market operating contract in 2024.”
In reviewing the challenges brought forward by Loving Spoonful, which included a request for “double” the funding received by the organization in 2023, staff noted concerns regarding potential 2024 budget constraints. Given these budgetary pressures, as well as “the time required to review and update policies,” the report recommended the City operate the market for 2024, “which requires implementation of a Public Market By-Law to provide clear operating guidelines.” The recommended bylaw is based on the 2021 Public Market bylaw.
Before the bylaw was brought forward for debate on Tuesday night, councillors heard delegations from Chris Ackerman and William Henderson regarding the proposed changes.
Henderson, a third-generation Kingston public market vendor, took issue with a clause in the new bylaw which allows the market to be removed for special events in Springer Market Square.
Henderson said, “The clause that was in [the bylaw from] 2006 stated that it was a ‘civic event’ only that we could be removed for. In order to provide the services that we provide for the citizens of Kingston, that [original clause] needs to go in under [the new bylaw].” He added, “If it doesn’t, there’s going to be a fair number of us that just can’t afford to take the chance of the market being shut down.”
Under the new bylaw, the City may “close,” “vacate,” or “postpone” the market if the space is needed for a special event, including “a program, filming activity, or civic event approved by the City,” provided vendors are given at least four weeks’ notice.
The bylaw does include a stipulation that “in cases of postponement, the market day will be rescheduled to the next available Friday.” Under the new provisions, the City will be required to display signage at the market “announcing the cancellation/postponement” at least one week prior. The City and Tourism Kingston will also be required to advertise the cancellation/postponement online.
When it came time for questions, Countryside Councillor Gary Oosterhof asked Henderson what he would like to see done to address the concerns of market vendors. “Are you willing to continue the engagement as stakeholders, and bring your points across thoroughly, and give this another solid look?” asked Oosterhof.
Henderson replied that he is unsure if he will continue to be a vendor if the bylaw is left unchanged.
“It’s a question mark that I’d have to really think about. The concern is that under the present bylaw, it states that it can be for any city special event,” he said, noting previous instances where vendors at the market were able to work with the City to accommodate certain closures.
“We’re not saying outright, flat out, that we’re not going to come to the market at all. It’s that we want to be heard, and we need to be in the discussion as to how things are going to change. And that hasn’t happened as yet.”
In response to a follow-up question from Oosterhof, Henderson confirmed he would be willing to take part in continued discussions with City staff regarding the new bylaw.
Additional questions from councillors touched on whether vendors at Kingston Public Market have a formal organization. Henderson responded that there is a “Market Vending Association” which has worked with the City since 2012. However, he said the association is no longer as active as it once was and that “no positive results” have come from their engagement with the City.
In terms of how recent market closures have impacted vendors, Henderson pointed to a “meet the local farmers” event, where Kingston Public Market vendors were displaced to make room for other farmers participating in the event.
“They kicked the farmers that were on the market off their stalls, put them outside a fenced area, and then invited the other farmers to come forward. [It was] a bit insulting, and the fact that we weren’t invited to take part in it was even more concerning,” he remarked.
Henderson was joined at the podium by another longtime vendor, Chris Ackerman, who took issue with a rumoured plan for Springer Market Square which could see the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area (BIA) remove the entire first row of vendor spaces from the market.
“I’m kind of in shock about this whole thing that’s being proposed,” Ackerman said. “To make the market smaller, put seats all around the market, so pretty much, we have no room… This kind of upsets our way of making a living. I don’t understand it; I really don’t.”
As Kingstonist reported earlier this month, on November 22, 2023, multiple vendors with Kingston Public Market attended a meeting where purported plans for the future of any market operations in Springer Market Square were disclosed to them. Market vendors confirmed to Kingstonist that the meeting was organized and hosted by Loving Spoonful.
On December 7, 2023, the original Kingstonist story was updated to include a response from the City of Kingston’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Lanie Hurdle, who confirmed the reported plan “has not been approved by City Council, and City staff have not yet budgeted funds to implement this plan.” Hurdle added that any changes to Springer Market Square would need to be approved by Council.
The staff report distributed in advance of the December 19 meeting noted, “There will be no changes to the Public Market layout in 2024.” It continued, “A draft plan was developed over the last year but engagement with vendors, stakeholders and the public [is] still required prior to City Council consideration.”
When asked by Pittsburgh Councillor Ryan Boehme what specific courses of action he would like to see, Henderson suggested a committee be established “to meet three times a year — once in April, once at the [start] of July, and at the end of October — to discuss potential changes that are required for the market or potential issues that are coming up for the market.” Henderson added the committee should be made up of market vendors, City staff, and representatives from the community and businesses surrounding Springer Market Square.
Asked how vendors at the Kingston Public Market might be able to accommodate closures for certain special events, Henderson noted that, from May to October, vendors would prefer no closures on Saturdays but would be open to accommodating special events on Tuesdays and Thursdays. After October 31, vendors would be more willing to accommodate a Saturday closure, he said.
The point about Saturday closures prompted Portsmouth Councillor Don Amos to ask if vendors would be willing to move to another downtown location, should the City need to close Springer Market Square on a Saturday. Henderson replied that vendors may “lose business” if customers don’t know where to find them.
As for some potential misconceptions about the Kingston Public Market and the products sold by vendors, Henderson explained, “The majority of farmers that are on [the market], myself included, make… or grow 100 per cent of what they sell.”
Before councillors debated the proposed bylaw, several minor amendments were accepted through an addendum drafted prior to the meeting, which included changes to operating hours and a shift in language requiring the City to issue cancellation notices four weeks prior to the market closure.
Once the report was officially brought forward for debate, King’s Town Councillor Gregory Ridge sought clarification on what councillors were voting on, to which Hurdle confirmed the decision was not related to any potential redesign of Springer Market Square.
Hurdle said, “What you are voting on is not a plan for furniture or anything like that. It’s strictly the bylaw that existed in 2022 and 2021. If you look at Schedule A of the bylaw, it provides the full market layout, and there is no reduction in any of the market stalls.”
When asked whether the proposed bylaw will provide the “level of stability” needed by market vendors, Hurdle explained the bylaw was initially drafted following consultations between City staff and market vendors back in 2021.
“It is a bylaw that went through a full public engagement [process]… It was also presented [to] the Arts, Recreation, and Community Policies Committee, and then it went to Council. So it did go through quite a lengthy process,” she said.
Before voting on the contents of the staff report, Sydenham Councillor Conny Glenn made a motion to amend the bylaw so that it required market vendors to post signage indicating “where products are grown/produced.” Glenn explained the amendment came from comments she has heard from constituents “expressing how much they wanted to ensure that they were able to buy food locally.”
“If you went to the supermarket, you would be able to see where your food came from. So it’s something that’s becoming more and more important to people as we’re moving towards a sustainable food system,” Glenn added.
The motion to amend received unanimous support; councillors then voted to approve the new Kingston Public Market Bylaw. With the new bylaw now in place, the City will assume control of the market beginning in January 2024, as staff work to “support vendors active in the winter as well as planning for the Spring of 2024.”
The agenda from this meeting of Kingston City Council can be found on the City of Kingston’s council meetings webpage, and the meeting can be viewed in its entirety on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.