By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Ireland spoke to the council to propose a reform of the neighborhood markets. Sitting in the cheap seats, I wondered what exactly the neighborhood markets had done to place themselves in need of reform. Were people getting drunk? Blaspheming?
Before the briefing I had read a proposed policy written by Bruce Bagelman, the proprietor of a popular market near White Rock Lake. Bagelman, a lawyer, researched Dallas ordinances and came to the conclusion that the six existing markets in Oak Cliff, North Dallas and East Dallas are already legal and fully controllable by City Hall under existing provisions for special events.
But Ireland wants much more control. He wants the neighborhood markets to be licensed and administered by the downtown farmers market. He wants to set specific percentages for the kinds of products they can sell. He wants to fix a limit for the total number that can exist in the city and the distance between them. And so on.
Ireland declined to speak to me, but asked that I submit questions to him in writing. I did. I asked what these controls and limits are based on. Could he show me any research?
Ireland wrote back, "Staff developed them based upon our conversations and understandings of experience in other cities."
But he offered no specifics. No names of cities. No rationale for imposing a three-mile buffer zone between markets or controlling by fiat what they can and cannot sell.
Eventually I was able to speak with City Manager Mary Suhm, who always tells me the truth, even when I don't like it. Well, actually, I think she tells me the truth especially when I don't like it. So I won't like it.
Suhm painted a grim picture of what could happen if neighborhood farmers markets are allowed to run amok. She suggested I would not be happy if my own neighborhood had a market selling, as she put it, "Half a dozen tomatoes and a bunch of pit bulls and bicycle parts."
Yikes. I never thought of it that way. It sounds like a scary movie. "FARMERS MARKET! Not just the tomatoes go splat."
But she was also fairly frank about another concern of City Hall—the fear that the fledgling markets, far from being horror shows, will be wildly successful and thereby steal traffic from the downtown market.
"We've invested a lot of money in the farmers market," Suhm said. "We're trying to create a destination where folks can come, and we're not there yet." She said there needs to be "a balance of the central farmers market" with the neighborhood markets.
But look: This is the same jam Uncle Joe Stalin got himself into with rubber boot quotas and such. For a guy who's busy running the purges, it's too hard to guess how many rubber boots the nation is going to need. The three-mile limits between neighborhood markets, the percentages of goods that can be sold: that kind of centralized regulation ignores the vagaries of who wants to go to a neighborhood market anyway and what they wind up wanting to buy when they get there.
That's how you wind up with huge rubber boot surpluses and tomato shortages, not to mention popular unrest. Why are we even talking about this?
The very best thing we could do for the downtown market is give it lots of sharp competition. And if those nimble little creatures out in the neighborhoods do come up with successful ideas, then the downtown market can copy them. I believe that's how it's supposed to work, is it not?
There are things the downtown market can do that the little ones can't. A parade down Main Street. A Gospel Fest, for goodness' sake. I wonder if there's a way we could get City Hall to bring Ed Deeb down here for a while? I wonder if he would be willing to wear a bow tie and short pants and call himself a consultant?