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Liberty Street Market looking for new direction

by Chanel Davis

@chanelrdavis

Although the venture is less than a year old, officials with the City of Winston-Salem will soon begin the process of finding someone else to run the Liberty Street Market.

Mercedes Miller, of Mercedes-Empowers Inc., will not renew her contract, which expired this summer, with the city to manage the city-owned Liberty Street Market, according to Ritchie Brooks, director of Community and Business Development. Miller had received 80 percent of the market’s gross revenue with the city receiving the additional 20 percent.

“She asked to have the contract terminated,” Brooks said. “Several weeks ago, she called and we discussed terminating the contract at the end of the season. After that conversation, she called back and said she wanted to terminate the contract within the determined time period.”

Brooks said that he hasn’t heard any grumblings about the Liberty Street Market not doing as well as expected outside of Miller saying that she was having more difficulty than expected in procuring vendors.

“Other than her sharing that with me, I have not heard it from anyone else,” he said.

The Liberty Street Market, at 1591 N. Liberty Street, began in October, opening Thursday through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and offering fresh produce, baked goods, arts and crafts and other community events. The surrounding area had been designated a “food desert” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was believed that the market would meet the needs of residents living in the city who lacked ready access to fresh food.

Brooks said that the city still has high hopes for the market and is looking at another management strategy to get it back up and running.

“We have pulled it back in-house and what we’ve been doing is reassessing how we want to move forward. Currently, we have been looking at different vendors, activities and projects that we, at a staff level, can reach out and bring to the market before going back out to request a proposal or making any decisions,” he said.

Councilwoman Vivian H. Burke, who represents the Northeast Ward that the market sits in, said that the market faced some challenges from the very beginning.

“In all fairness, when the city went along with the Liberty CDC (now absolved) we had not really cleaned up Liberty Street as well as we should have. There were things that you could see needed to be done in order for folks to want to come to the market,” she said. “Also there was competition across the street. The service station rents out his property to vendors and you still have a lot of vendors on the corners throughout the city selling without permits.”

Burke said that whoever ran the market would have to really work hard to get and retain vendors.

“I was under the impression that they already had the vendors that would be using the market before it opened up. With the economy like it is, maybe folks just couldn’t seem to come together to produce the revenue,” she said. “I wouldn’t take anything away from Mercedes Miller. I think she is a woman with ideas, she’s smart and creative. She put her ability into it.”

Burke said that the city is now tasked with looking into how best to maintain their investment. The city spent about $35,000 to design the market and another $307,000 to build the structures. The market’s failure is not an option, Burke said.

“We have to move on and find out what we can do to get some refund out of the investment that has been made up there. We have too much of the taxpayers’ dollars invested to not make it work,” she said. “Now it’s under the Recreation Department. We can use that area for events for churches, birthday parties or gatherings. We have to look at what we can do to bring the area alive. It may be teenage entertainment.”

She said that she has faith that whoever manages the market will have to focus on gaining the area’s trust back and making people know that the market is there.

“We have to be positive. We have to give the people the feeling that Liberty Street is alright. Some folks don’t know what has been up there and the things that have taken place. We are going to have to make this a priority. Hopefully, people around the area will get involved. We are not going to give up. You don’t always hit the home run on the first go round but you keep trying. We’re just going to have to work harder.”

Miller did not return phone calls or social media request in regards to this article before press time. !

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