Foodies in Dallas have long lamented the problems of the Dallas Farmers Market. A lack of consistent local vendors and general disinterest from the city of Dallas resulted in a lackluster farmer's market that did not accurately represent the bounty produced by local farmers. In many cases, it just wasn't profitable for farmers to make the trip to Downtown.
But last year, DF Market Holdings, LLC bought the Dallas Farmers Market from the city and promised big changes. Unfortunately, some of those changes meant losing famous farmers market mainstays like Pecan Lodge. After close to a year of construction and new development, though, the Dallas Farmers Market is planning to reopen at the end of the summer with a brand new look and a renewed focus on local farmers.
Even though the Market has been under construction, director of operations Travis Morgan says that business is booming. "I have a couple of employees that were here before the change in ownership, and they're saying that they've never seen it busier." Of course, weekends are the Market's most profitable days, but weekday traffic is steadily increasing despite the changes.
There was, of course, some pushback from loyal market goers when DF Market Holdings announced that they would be removing all parking spaces that were housed underneath Shed 1, where local farmers are housed. According to Morgan, the presence of these parking spaces may have actually been detrimental to the businesses of some farmers. "Customers liked the idea that they could drive straight to their favorite vendor, and I understand that. But when we took that away, all of our customers had to walk by other vendors that they'd never met before," he explained. "Some people have driven there for years and never looked left or right."
When the Dallas Farmers Market reopens on August 29, the space will be much more friendly to both farmers and patrons. Removing the parking also means that farmers won't have to worry about their wares being covered in car exhaust, and that parents can bring their kids without having to worry about them being plowed over by inattentive drivers on a busy day. It also means that there will hopefully be a wider variety of offerings, thanks to added space for new vendors.
"Patrons should see twice as many vendors/farmers than they've seen in any of the other sheds," Morgan said. With this much more space, the Market hopes to add items that have never been available for sale. "We're finally going to have a bread vendor, artisan-made foods, and access to lots of different kinds of meats, including fish." Previously, DF Market Holdings had hinted at additional retail and restaurant offerings, but Morgan was tight-lipped about what's to come in those spaces.
There's also the issue of attracting farmers to regularly bring their wares to the Dallas Farmers Market. Changes to the back-end layout, including removing space for farmers to back into their stalls, had some people initially concerned about the Market's ability to keep a regular roster of farmers. To combat that, the Market is working with GROW North Texas, a nonprofit organization that connects communities with local farmers.
In working with GROW, Morgan hopes to demonstrate to farmers that coming to the Dallas Farmers Market is good for business. "The issue is that a successful business model for most farmers means that they're always busy farming," he explains. "They can't man a booth. With the new shed and some of the quality controls we've put in place, a lot of them are looking at starting to look at how they can adapt to a retail model."
In the meantime, the Market is rapidly preparing for their grand opening on August 29 while continuing to serve crowds that have taken advantage of the cool summer weather. Once the market has been "reopened," more improvements will still be underway, like the building of a much-needed parking garage, and over 5,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space in the newly-revamped Shed 2, the former home of Pecan Lodge.