Stemming from concerns about the public’s safety and its own legal liabilities, Main Street Delaware has altered policies regarding its popular community gatherings. The Main Street Delaware board held multiple discussions leading up to the start of the Farmers’ Market season last month before deciding to restrict who can participate in the events.
Under its new policy, “informational” tables will no longer be allowed to set up on the downtown sidewalks as part of the Farmer’s Market events. Moving forward, the sidewalks during the event will be solely for vendors with homemade items for sale.
In addition to the changes to the Farmers’ Market, all vendors participating in a First Friday event, including nonprofits, must be able to show a certificate of insurance (COI) in order to operate.
While the changes to the policies were decided on months ago, concerns from some in the public have just recently surfaced. Among the concerns raised were how the prohibiting of informational tables at the Farmers’ Market might violate freedom of speech and the inability of some nonprofit organizations to afford the liability insurance now necessary to participate in the First Friday events.
In light of those concerns, Main Street Delaware Executive Director Susie Bibler issued a statement in which she explained the reasoning behind the policy changes.
“The 2018 Main Street Delaware Farmers’ Market season was the largest in the organization’s history, both in the number and variety of vendors and the number of shoppers,” Bibler said. “The growing success of the Farmers’ Market raised some concerns with the Delaware Police Department which we were asked to address as part of the City of Delaware issuing the permit for Main Street to use the sidewalks.
“Main Street Delaware formed a committee comprised of Farmers’ Market vendors, Farmers’ Market managers, and citizens. That group recommended the elimination of purely informational tables to allow more space for local farmers and crafters who provide ‘homegrown and homemade’ items. The Main Street Board received and discussed the committee’s recommendations and agreed that the Farmers’ Markets should focus on farmers and small or local businesses. We explained the policy and the reasons with the City of Delaware and the political parties prior to the market season. With this change, we have also had to deny businesses who monetarily sponsor the Farmers’ Market permission to set up informational tables at the market.”
As for the now-required COI for First Friday vendors, Bibler said, “If an organization does not have sufficient funds to purchase insurance, it also would not have enough to defend itself (or defend and indemnify Main Street Delaware) in any lawsuit arising from that organization’s activities in its booth. This places Main Street Delaware’s assets and organization at risk. The purpose of the vendor insurance requirement is simply to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.”
Furthermore, Bibler told The Gazette the policy change to the Farmers’ Market events isn’t really a change at all. She said Main Street’s policy has always stated Farmers’ Market vendors must be selling homemade or homegrown products. However, she said, the Farmers’ Market wasn’t nearly as big when it was created 17 years ago as it is now. Informational tables have been allowed because there has been sufficient space for them through the years, she said.
Now, with the event’s popularity and participation as high as it’s ever been, the congestion along the sidewalks for the events has also increased. With the Delaware Police Department’s concerns about public safety raised, the natural decision to remedy the growing congestion was to return to what the event has always been intended for.
“It’s just really about space and going back to the original intent of a Farmers’ Market, and that’s having space for farmers and homemade items,” Bibler said.
As for the change to begin requiring First Friday vendors to have insurance, Bibler said she spoke with an attorney, Main Street’s insurance provider, and a member of the board who is also insurance provider, all of which, she said, agreed that the policy change would be a sound business practice to protect both Main Street Delaware and the people who partake in the First Friday events.
Bibler downplayed any part of the two changes being controversial, saying she followed up with some of the groups who regularly set up informational tables at the Farmers’ Market events to ensure there was an understanding of why the policy changes were necessary.
“Everyone was fine (with it),” she said. “It’s all growing pains. And we understand that change can be hard. But it’s not just to protect Main Street, we really want to protect what’s best for our community.”
Asked if she has seen any change in the number of vendors participating in First Friday events, given the policy change ahead of last month’s event, Bibler said, “Not at all. We had close to 70 vendors last month, stretching two blocks.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @ddavis_gazette.