Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Opportunity Knocking - Dunwoody needs a permanent community marketplace

The Dunwoody Green Market (DGM) opens shop  at the Dunwoody Post Office on Wednesday mornings.  It's a great little outlet for local farmers (and lately, artisans and cooks) who will never get shelf space at Kroger or Publix to offer their wares directly to the public that seeks out small business to purchase from. 

Why is it perched at the Post Office?  Good question with an interesting story.  Originally the "green market" was to be an organic farmers' market hosted at a church.  Problem:  churches (and other houses of worship) are zoned residential.  And according to our city ordinances, there is to be no business with customer contact in a residential zone.  (That has been slightly modified with a SLUP procedure.  However, if my neighbor the violin teacher had to go through a couple of circles of hell to get one student at a time in her home, imagine the response to a market with several hundred shoppers.)

Making an exception to the ordinance for enterprises housed at religious facilities would not hold water when the inevitable lawsuits spring up.  The city council was not ready to overhaul the ordinances regarding zoning and business operations.  What to do?

Bob Lundsten came up with the idea of asking the Post Office to allow the market to borrow their property once a week.  US Post Offices are by definition federal land.  City ordinances don't apply.  So while the DGM is in the Post Office's good graces, the market opens every Wednesday - legally.

How lucky do you feel existing at the whim of the Feds?  I wouldn't.  The USPS can revoke its permission at any time.  They can close that location and sell the land, which they routinely threaten to do.  Or the market can stifle its own growth to fit within the property it's allowed to use.    The market is already growing - it's not just "organic farming" anymore.  You have artisans, prepared food sellers, bakers, a pizzeria(!!) and who knows what else will be added from time to time.  The other businesses in Dunwoody Village that DO pay taxes without finding a loophole tlike DGM has aren't too thrilled.  Plus, there are other business enterprises that are either home-based or otherwise don't rise to the level of a stand-alone brick-and-mortar storefront that need outlets to meet their customers.  Then you have mobile enterprises like the "upscale mobile restaurants" (read:  roach coach w/out the roach) like "Hail Ceasar". 

With a variety of vacant commercial properties that can be negotiated, it's time for one of these landlords to organize the good old fashioned Flea Market.  I wouldn't call it a flea market though.  Anything with "flea" in the name isn't going to be considered upscale enough for Dunwoody.  How about Community Market? 

The Premise  (This is general there would be a lot of details and bugs to work out.)

Find one of the many legally-zoned storefronts in town not currently used.  Examples:  the Ace Hardware at Mt Vernon and Dunwoody Club or the old Blockbuster next to Azima Salon and the BP gas station near the Village. 

Persuade the landlord to convert the unused storefront into a part-time (at least) or full-time (ideal) marketplace.  Charge rent to whoever has something to sell or promote.  The DGM could potentially negotiate a rent for all of its members and camp in its own section.  In addition, home-based businesses promoting themselves, not-for-profits selling for charity or doing other promotions could also rent spots.  Or even brick-and-mortars could promote their wares.  Any specialty seller looking to carve their niche would have a leg-up to build their following.

By paying rent for a space, taxes get collected and the landlord doesn't have to wait forever for a permanent tenant that doesn't want to change the zoning.

Said landlord could even charge the roachless roach coach to park and sell lunch.

Retail spaces are already zoned for (wait for it...) retail activity so zoning issues are avoided.  If you find a big enough space, you're going to have plenty of parking.  No matter how much people opine regarding alternate transportation, "smart cars", bicycling, or other ideals, people drive their cars.  Especially when they shop.  Even to a local organic "green" market.  The parking lot today was full of cars and SUVs, not Segways.

Retail spaces also have rest rooms.  Lots of people bring lots of kids to the DGM.  Where you have kids, you have need for bathrooms.  Especially if they have diaper changing tables.  That doesn't exist in the current location.

Retail spaces are easier to operate rain or shine.  That roof comes in pretty handy when the rain finally returns.  Electrical power also makes for a wider variety of merchants to join in.  An indoor open-concept community market could operate year-round, even if the DGM is closed for the winter.

The Ace Hardware location would be my first choice.  Don't know if they're getting a tenant or not.  I've heard that Kroger has loosened its grip and a contract is in the works.  The DGM and other merchants could still work in that area.  Like that restaurant in Orchard Park that has been sitting empty forever.  (Yes, I know, it's in Sandy Springs but it came to mind.)  Given the niche audience that DGM and other small merchants market to, there would be no competition with Kroger, or any major supermarket.

There are probably many more storefronts that would fit the bill for this venture that I can't even think of.  Anyone know a landlord willing to take a shot at making some money and gaining some community goodwill in the bargain?


Traci said...

You should look into other local Farmer's Markets in the area. I go to the EAV (East Atlanta Village) Farmer's Market on Thursdays from 4-8pm May through November. The Market rents an empty lot and it has grown so much. There are fresh fruits and veggies, meats, prepared foods, desserts, cheeses, etc. Restaurants sometimes come and set up a tent as well. There are things for kids, too like face painting, t-shirt making, and it's dog friendly, too...

Anonymous said...

I had a mid-week day off a while back and went to the "Dunwoody Green Market". Was hoping for some heirloom tomatoes, ripe and ready for some Duke's on whole wheat. Wanted some corn, maybe some okra, and a half dozen cukes for a cold soup.

Too bad. None of that on display.

Now if I wanted a wood oven baked slice with some banjo in the background, then I'm at the right spot.

This thing should be shut down before it becomes even more embarrassing. The only thing green at that market is the cash.

Anonymous said...


I'm not sure when you went to the market, but the farmers there (all of them actually) have had heirloom tomatoes ever since they came in to season. I've had plenty and they were amazing. Unlike the supermarket,the produce here comes seasonally. That means no tomatoes in April, and no watermelons in May.