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BMA considers proposal for farmers market, retail store at former gas station

A proposal to establish a year-round farmers market in Jonesborough was expected to be presented at the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting March 11.
The proposal asks the BMA to approve use of the old Exxon building on Boone Street for a permanent extension of the current farmers market ­— one that would be open at least six days a week.
The Town of Jonesborough owns the property, purchasing it in October 2011 for $85,000. Town leaders said they made the decision to purchase the property so they could control what it is used for since it is a prime location in downtown.
The proposal for a year-round farmers market came before the BMA complete with a list of benefits – including being a “sales tax generator.” It was presented with a recommendation the BMA approve the request so that more details can be considered at the next meeting prior to finalizing a plan.
Currently the farmers market is a Saturday morning event, open from May through October. While customers can shop online throughout the week, shoppers wishing to peruse and purchase fresh produce in person have only half a day to do so each week.
If plans move forward, the farmers market, which has showcased more than 75 different farmers, would continue its Saturday mornings on Courthouse Square.
“Obviously the Jonesborough Farmers Market is a very successful venture and we are extremely fortunate to have it take place here,” said Mayor Kelly Wolfe late last week.
He cited results from a survey conducted by market organizers that show approximately 1,000 visitors a week come to Jonesborough on Saturdays during the peak produce-growing season. Online market sales, the report says, have tripled this year compared to last.
“Those kinds of numbers can’t be ignored,” Wolfe said.
That success is in line with a goal stated by Destination Development calling for 200 visitors a day to come to Jonesborough.
“The farmers market and any activities that can become a permanent fixture in the old Exxon building would greatly help us reach that goal,” Wolfe said. “It would help bring more people to town all week long and not just on Saturday.”
If plans come together, the town could feature even more farmers, particularly those from the Nolichucky area.
“We need to be very deliberately courting our friends and neighbors who grow some of the best produce in the world down on the Nolichucky River,” he said. “My hope is that we can develop a business model that would encourage more local folks who grow large quantities to sell here. We could do that by reducing their overhead and letting them sell in some sort of cooperative effort.”
The market would be staffed, he said, giving farmers the ability to sell without having to be present.
Before any of that could be possible, more work must be done on the property, Wolfe said. Plans are already under way for a new sidewalk from the corner of Boone and Main streets along the gas station property to Sabin Drive. New landscaping for the area is also in the works.
“With town staff doing a lot of the work, it will save us money,” Wolfe said. “We’re going to try to keep the operation as low budget as we can.”
Once the work is done, Wolfe said, the building could be a real attribute.
“The (former auto) bays represent a great area for all season produce,” he said. “There are already restrooms in the facility and we might make an addition at some point for seating.”
Wolfe said he can see a time when there might even be a small cafe there.
“There is a lot of potential to do a lot of different things,” he said. “We need to take a little time, come up with a good plan…and get to work in anticipation of making something happen for the upcoming farmer’s market season if this is the direction we decide we want to go.”
The proposal suggests the creation of a commercial kitchen inside the building, offering a space for residents to produce goods in a state-certified kitchen for legal sale at the market, restaurants and other retail locations. It could also be used after hours for community events such as cooking classes, chef demonstrations and more.
The plans are only in the “what if” stage at this point, Wolfe said, since a budget hasn’t been set. Obtaining grants specifically awarded for the development of farmers markets could make a big difference in taking ideas and turning them into realities, he noted.
“This is an exciting opportunity to take this thing to the next level while meeting mutual goals,” Wolfe said.