Update – City addresses vendors: Kingston Public Market vendors decry purported plans for sweeping changes

The Kingston Public Market in Springer Market Square. Kingstonist file photo from 2016.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated since it was originally published on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, at 6:16 p.m. Please see bottom of article for most recently updated information.

The Kingston Public Market — one of the longest running markets in Canada — is going to look a lot different than it has this year and for literal centuries past, according to vendors who rent stalls at Springer Market Square.

The Kingston Public Market, often referred to simply as “the market” or “the farmers’ market,” is the oldest market in the province and has maintained its space in the market square since 1801. But vendors at the market — who rent stalls to sell their produce, flowers, artworks, clothing, food goods, and other products — say there are plans in motion to see the historic market reduced in size, and its operations altered significantly.

Kingstonist spoke with a handful of vendors from the Kingston Public Market, some of whom have sold their products on the cobbles behind City Hall for decades, others who joined them within the last decade. All of those vendors agreed to speak with Kingstonist on the record, but under the condition their identities remain anonymous; as one vendor remarked, “the people who are doing this are the same people who will decide whether or not to give me a stall, and I need to sell my goods.” All of those we spoke with had very similar accounts of what they’ve learned over the past week, and how they feel about the developments. All of them pointed out the fact that the plans for the market came as a complete shock and without any formal public consultation process.

As readers may recall, in early December last year, Kingston City Council approved a recommendation from the Department of Recreation and Leisure Services to see a local food sovereignty charity, Loving Spoonful, become the new operator of the Kingston Public Market for the 2023 year.

“Under the new model, Loving Spoonful, a not-for-profit charity with a history of successful partnerships with the City, will operate, manage and market the Public Market, and will implement changes to attract more local farmers as vendors. Loving Spoonful will transition the Public Market to achieve a Farmers’ Markets Ontario designation over the next nine to 12 months,” the report noted.

While it is unclear what progress was made on those objectives — Kingstonist reached out to both the City of Kingston and Loving Spoonful for more information and comment, but no response was received by time of publication — multiple market vendors said there have been difficulties between the municipality and the market operator. More specifically, vendors referred to issues seemingly downloaded on the market, its operator, and its vendors, such as cancelling market days at the last minute; reference was also made to Loving Spoonful finding the City difficult to work with. As mentioned, those allegations have not been confirmed, nor have any of the assertions of the vendors and those with close connections to the market contained within this article.

But one thing is for certain: last week, on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023, multiple Kingston Public Market vendors were summoned to a meeting where plans for the future of any market operations in Springer Market Square were disclosed to them. Kingstonist has obtained photos of blueprints the vendors were shown at that meeting, and has verified that the timestamps on the photos obtained all correlate. All vendors spoken to indicated that Loving Spoonful organized and hosted the meeting.

This is what the vendors were presented with, something one vendor (and a number of anonymous entities) took to social media over:

Photo via Simple Country Pleasures on Facebook.
Photo via Simple Country Pleasures on Facebook.

The last two photos above are from a public post on Facebook from Simple Country Pleasures, a vendor at the Kingston Public Market since 1985. Kingstonist reached out to the company directly for comment, but no response was received by time of publication.

The vendor’s Facebook post purports that the plans have been approved by City Council; however, Kingstonist has found no record of Council having been made aware of the plans, let alone voted on them.

“This past week the market vendors were asked to come to a meeting held by our lessee this year…. Loving Spoonful. We were given the news that this plan for the market was passed by Council recently. Presented by the DBIA (Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area), and from what I’m hearing a little on the QT [quietly]. The map may not make much sense to most of you but if you read the legend[,] that explains the amount of tents, benches, etc., that will be installed PERMANENTLY on the square this coming summer,” Simple Country Pleasures posted on Facebook on Friday, Nov. 26, 2023.

“There will be benches lined up along King Street in front of where vendors set up now. This entire plan disrupts where we have done business for all vendors. My understanding is that the DBIA and City I think, want everything to look attractive. They have been pushing for there to be NO vendors able to keep their vehicles in their space while selling.”

The vendor’s post goes on to say that, should the parking situation be true, any vendors allowed on “Market Square” will have to move their vehicles for the duration of the time they are selling. This would mean the vendors would be taking up the valuable commodity that is parking space in downtown Kingston. Simple Country Pleasures suggests in the post that area residents contact their councillors about the matter.

The alleged new design for the square “would be mostly turned into benches and planters,” another vendor told Kingstonist of the plans, referring to a document they were shown entitled “Springer Market Square Activation Strategy.” That vendor, too, said that the Downtown Kingston BIA had been involved in the creation of the plans — plans the vendor feels have been made to appease downtown business owners.

The vendor asserted that at the meeting, Loving Spoonful had relayed that the plans were “planned and proposed by the city staff and Downtown Kingston BIA.” The vendor further said that Loving Spoonful had organized the meeting “so they could explain that they will not be renewing their contract after this year because of the challenges they have faced this year with City staff, and also to share this report with us about the changes that are being planned for Market Square.”

“We were told that the plan has been [greenlighted] by City staff, and that the downtown Kingston BIA is currently working on sourcing the funding required to implement it,” the vendor told Kingstonist, noting that the plans, if implemented, would certainly reduce the number of vendors able to operate in the market square.

“Personally, I have already started looking into alternatives to Kingston Public Market should this plan be implemented,” the vendor shared, “and I believe many other vendors have as well. We don’t want to leave, but I am a full-time farmer, so I have to have a reliable place to sell my produce… or my business will not be successful.”

The vendor continued, “I was shocked and upset, obviously. The market is an important part of my business. There is also a sense of community amongst the vendors, and a chance for me as a local farmer to connect with the public and for them to get a sense of where their food is coming from.”

The long-time seller in the square said they lay no blame on the current market operator, noting that Loving Spoonful has “helped a lot in pushing back against City staff changes that would negatively impact the market, and have done a great job of both communicating with and listening to ideas from the vendors to improve the market.”

“It is sad City staff have created a situation where they are unable to continue to run the market,” they said.

That vendor, and at least two others Kingstonist spoke with, said they were led to believe information about the plans for Springer Market Square would be coming to Council in early December. Kingston City Council has two meetings scheduled that month: December 5 and December 19. The schedule for the Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, will be published by City staff tomorrow by 11 a.m.

As one vendor, who has not been mentioned above, put it, “This better be something that Council has to approve of, and I expect Council to ensure proper studies and public consultation take place before putting any such changes in place. If that doesn’t happen, the City of Kingston is going to have a lot of very angry people to answer to.”

This is an ongoing story; Kingstonist will share more information as it becomes available.

The market in downtown Kingston through the years, as shown on the official Kingston Public Market website. Screen captured image from the Kingston Public Market website.

Update (Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023 at 11:45 a.m.)
Following a week of requests for interviews with the correct person from the City of Kingston to speak to the alleged changes coming to the Kingston Public Market, the Communications Team at the City informed Kingstonist that Lanie Hurdle, CAO of the City of Kingston, had sent an email to market vendors “earlier this week.”

According to the City, the information communicated to the market vendors in the email “covers off all of the details we have at the moment and addresses the potential shifts in layouts.” The following is a copy of that email, as sent to Kingstonist by the City:

“Dear Public Market Vendors,

I understand that there has been a lot of different information shared on next year’s market operations. I wanted to reach out personally to ensure that you received the most up to date information directly from City staff. 

First, I can confirm that the City will be operating the Public Market in 2024. The City is working on securing a partnership with Loving Spoonful for 2024. We are hopeful that we can establish a partnership fairly quickly, but should that not be feasible, the City will manage the market’s operations as it did for many years before establishing an agreement with Loving Spoonful in 2023. If the City operates the Public Market, the previously existing public market by-law would be reinstated with Council approval. The public market by-law was last updated a couple of years ago and therefore you would have operated under the by-law processes in years past. Fees would also be established according to the previous City fees plus fees and charges escalation of 3%. You will recall that this was the standard approach for many years. The City would also dedicate a point of contact for market days as per past practice.

Furthermore, I wanted to clarify that the furniture plan that was distributed in November has not been approved by City Council and City staff have not yet budgeted funds to implement this plan. Any changes to the square that would have a significant impact on the Public Market or other services would require City Council approval. City staff are committed to having dialogue with all its key partners, including the Public Market Vendors Association before finalizing any potential changes to the Square.

I appreciate that many of you will be looking to finalize your Spring/Summer plans fairly soon. Please be assured that the market will be operational and that we will be in touch shortly with more operational details.I appreciate that many of you will be looking to finalize your Spring/Summer plans fairly soon. Please be assured that the market will be operational and that we will be in touch shortly with more operational details.

We appreciate your patience and co-operation.

In a follow up email, the City of Kingston said the email was sent to Kingston Public Market vendors from CAO Hurdle at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.

The Kingston Public Market was not discussed at the most recent meeting of City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. The next meeting of Council is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.

Representatives from Loving Spoonful have indicated they will not comment on this matter due to their current contract with the City of Kingston to oversee operations of the market.

Kingstonist has continued to communicate with both the Downtown Kingston Business Improvement Area (BIA) and Tourism Kingston for further details on this matter. Response to questions submitted to both agencies is expected in the coming days.

7 thoughts on “Update – City addresses vendors: Kingston Public Market vendors decry purported plans for sweeping changes

  • This could work well if the BIA and City provide uniforms for the farmers to help tell the vendors from the wandering mass and hire University students to prevent patrons loitering and chatting with vendors and each other as that only slows down sales and inhibits an orderly flow. Washing stations and available wet-wipes would also be helpful because farmers hands and produce can be dirty. Eew!!

    • I’m assuming this is satirical, along the lines of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”.

    • Is this a tongue in cheek comment? It sure sounds like to because the suggestions are ludicrous.

    • Hi Michael,

      Loving Spoonful are a locally based food sovereignty not-for-profit organization. They are involved in many local initiatives around food security, community gardening, etc.

      You can learn more about the organization on their website here.

      Hope that answers your question!

      Tori Stafford

  • As a resident and user of the Springer Square Market I would like to know the reasons for any changes that MIGHT be implemented. Loving Spoonful is a wonderful agency.
    Denying farmers the right to have their vehicles with them on the square would entail much more work for them, as well as taking up proper parking spaces, but this is a relative minor issue. Placing the first row back 6 feet to allow for easier pedestrian flow would be wonderful, but not having it on King Street at all would diminish to look and feel of the market. Congestion is not always a bad thing. Crowds beget crowds.
    The low-quality ‘tat’ that sometimes appear in stalls brings down the tone somewhat, as well.

  • Looking closely a the “proposed plans” put forward by BIA and Tourism Kingston, it appears that the vendors are clustered in a tight space away from the sidewalks. Their produce/ items for sale will need to be unloaded and carted to their space and their vehicles parked in precious parking spaces downtown. Please tell me who they believe will be sitting on the benches…..with a view of the backside of City Hall or congested traffic on King/Brock Streets. In an era of “farm to table” this appears to be a step backwards. People sitting around and maybe playing chess are to be given priority over our local farmers and readily available fresh fruit & vegetables. Local farmers and residents are given a back seat to tourists!

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