The Horton Market: An event or a shopping experience?


city_scope_logo-cmykCity hall is the battleground this week in a growing controversy.
Literally.
The central player in all of this is the Horton Market and whether it should be allowed to open at the end of the month to provide a sales venue for area fruit and vegetable growers, among others.
On Tuesday (May 19) city council, by a 5-4 margin, defeated a motion to provide a letter of support for plans to be submitted to the health unit allowing the popular Saturday market to open for the season under COVID-19 restrictions.
We’ll break down that vote in a few minutes.
It didn’t take long for the controversy to flare up, not unlike the divisive environment associated with debate around the city’s twin-pad arena and the new police headquarters.


Market vendor Serge Lavoie stoked the fire with a letter to members of council
He opened with, “I believe that the operating rules established by the market board, using strict guidelines set by Farm Markets Ontario and Southwestern Public Health, were workable and comprehensive.
Horton Market“The exact same operating guidelines were used by the Woodstock Farmers Market, under the authority of Southwestern Public Health, this past Saturday.
“I saw with my own eyes that the systems worked, people were kept safe and vendors were able to resume their livelihoods. If Woodstock can do it, why not St. Thomas?”
A fair question, so we contacted Mayor Joe Preston for his rationale in voting against the motion.
He said the city is in receipt of information on what markets would have to do to open “and there was a great deal of discussion there with council.”
Preston did stress he asked councillors about the possibility of a one-week trial opening “to see if this works or not.”

“So, is it an event or a shopping experience? We would be gathering way more people in one place than we should and I think that’s where council came from.”

Here’s the nitty-gritty, stressed Preston.
“Is the market suitable for the amount of people who usually gather. I’m sorry, during COVID-19, you can’t put 300 people in that little space like you do every Saturday.
“You would need to be much more spread out (to accommodate social distancing). You would have to have vendors at every second table.
“By quick calculation, it was about one-quarter of the people who attended the market in the past.”
It’s is Preston’s opinion every Saturday at the market is more an event than a shopping experience.
“I think we still have a number of people who think of the market, as it has been over past years, as quite a good event on Saturday morning where you meet your friends.
“It wouldn’t be able to operate in the same way. We’ve been told we can’t gather more than five people.
“So, is it an event or a shopping experience? We would be gathering way more people in one place than we should and I think that’s where council came from.”
And with vendors restricted to foods with no craft items allowed, Preston noted “council was in the majority in deciding it won’t be enough of the same (as found in a typical Saturday) so why are we doing it?”
And, adds Preston, “We just spent two full months looking at how do we maintain the safety of the citizens of St. Thomas. We should be proud of what the community has done.”
In his letter, Lavoie attacks the issue from an economic perspective.
“By not doing everything possible to salvage the market season this year, council is sending a dangerous message about how it views support of small enterprises and the loyal customers who rely on them.”

“I’m sorry, but Joe is patently wrong. He needs to do his research.”

We reached out to him for elaboration, as a vendor, in light of the fact the market Facebook page indicates it will not operate at all this year.
“I don’t know how that decision came about. That wasn’t council’s decision. Council said they weren’t going to support the re-opening, based on the plan put in front of them (Tuesday).”
Here’s where the conversation notched up a tad as we noted any decision to re-open the market would have to be re-visited by council, according to Preston.
“Point blank, Joe is patently wrong. Since the original emergency lockdown, farmers’ markets have been deemed an essential service. And there have been protocols developed by Farm Markets Ontario because farm markets have special legislation that allows them to do certain things.
“So Farm Markets Ontario developed procedures that were signed off by Southwestern Public Health and other health units across the province and that is why so many markets remain in operation.
“As long as they sell only food and none of the other non-food stuff.”
To emphasize that last point Lavoie re-iterated, “I’m sorry, but Joe is patently wrong. He needs to do his research.”
As to the fear expressed by Preston about people socializing, Lavoie stressed, “Under the procedures developed by Southwestern Public Health, there was not going to be any possibility of socializing.
“They would have to take away all the tables and chairs and they would limit how people got in and out of the market, how many would be there, the direction they would be walking.
“That’s exactly what I experienced in Woodstock when I was there Saturday and then we went to Western Fair Market (in London).
“It underscores the point, there are provincially approved guidelines in place for how to operate farmers’ markets and the Horton Market board basically put those in front of council.”
Lavoie hammers home the following point.
“I’ve heard Joe say over and over again, ‘The Horton Market is an event and we have to wait to be allowed to open it.’ And that is absolutely false.”
Well, two very compelling arguments. You can bet the story isn’t over yet.
As for that vote on Tuesday, the mayor and councillors Gary Clarke, Jeff Kohler, Joan Rymal and Mark Tinlin were opposed to the motion to provide a letter of support.
Councillors Lori Baldwin-Sands, Jim Herbert, Steve Peters and Steve Wookey were in favour.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE

City resident Ann Lapchinski forwarded to us a letter she directed to members of council regarding the market.
She writes, “Add my name to the growing list of disgruntled St. Thomas citizens who are appalled by your decision to keep the market closed. I know the vote was 5 to 4 but it seems that minutes are not ready so we don’t know who to praise and who to pan. Perhaps the press will release names (See above).”
She then directs people to the very busy myFM Facebook page to read the many comments.
She continues, “Perhaps go to Covent Gardens/Western Fair markets and see how they handle their market. Quite efficiently and quite safely.
“Take a road trip to Kensington Market and see how they run their market!!! Quite efficiently and quite safely.
“Such small-town thinking. Shame on the 5 of you.”
Coun. Peters responded, “Thanks for your message, I voted to open.”
Coun. Kohler elaborated further in his response to Steve’s email, all members of council and Lapchinski.

“Let’s hope everything eases up, vendors and volunteers come out of the woodwork and we can have a successful harvest market with no risk of spreading the virus.”

“Steve, as of May 16th we had two vendors submit plans to public health and 5 volunteers signed up (Lori Baldwin-Sands’ family). Can I count on you and Ann to sign up for every Saturday, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. so we have the support to execute the guidelines set out by the province and public health?
“I will reconsider my vote if we end up having a viable number of vendors and volunteers that will show every week so we don’t get embarrassed because we get shutdown or hit the headlines because some vendors and patrons test positive.
“Please let me know before our market board meeting on Wednesday. I would also like to suggest that if we are willing and feel comfortable to herd the public downtown that we should start meeting up at city hall instead of protecting us and staff by continuing the phone-in meetings.
“Thank you for your support and suggestions. I look forward to including yours and Ann’s names to our slowly growing volunteer list. Let’s hope everything eases up, vendors and volunteers come out of the woodwork and we can have a successful harvest market with no risk of spreading the virus.”
We’ll give the last word to Lapchinski (for the time being!).
“So I guess he expects this 70-year-old woman to volunteer? Put my money where my mouth is?”
Obviously, purchasing fruit and veggies on a Saturday morning at the market turns out to be quite a passionate act.

WE’RE NOW A TWO-STEVE COUNCIL

If you had asked him a year ago about his chances of returning to the council chamber in city hall he would have responded “zero.”
Well, Steve Wookey is, indeed, back on council after his appointment Tuesday (May 19) to fill the seat left vacant following the death of Linda Stevenson.
Steve WookeyjpgWe caught up with him this week for his reaction and his initial comment reflected back on Stevenson.
“Linda was a friend of mine. I’ve known her for a long time and she was a buddy but she could dish it out, she could take it, she was awesome.”
Back in April, he emailed city clerk Maria Konefal to express his interest in filling the seat.
Then a week ago, she contacted Wookey to re-confirm his interest in returning to council.
And, in short order, he returns to municipal politics which he left in 2018 following his failed mayoral bid.
So had he thought of throwing his hat in the ring for the 2022 municipal vote?
“Not at all. When I ran for mayor, I meant when I said this is the right time to do that. And when I was unsuccessful, I retired (from teaching at CECI) at the end of June.
“When you’re a retired guy, you rebuild your deck, you paint rooms in your house, you golf and you travel. If you asked me in 2019 what do you think the chances are of ever being on council again, I would say zero.”

“I’m doing this to fulfill Linda’s term and that’s how I look at it. I would far prefer to have Linda alive, healthy and serving and me watching from the sidelines.”

We asked Wookey about his feelings when it’s safe to return to normalcy with full council meetings at city hall.
“You miss the people. It will be good to be back with the people because I really like them. I get along with them and I respect . . . We all know each other, it’s like Cheers.”
As for his first term on council from 2014 through to 2018, Wookey stressed, “I was impressed by how we treated each other. Sometimes you lose a vote and that’s fine but you move on. It’s not personal at all.”
We put him on the spot again about seeking re-election in 2022 after enjoying a two-year taste of life as a councillor.
“I highly doubt it. Elections are a full commitment of energy, time and resources. And that first six months of retirement was the best six months of my life.
“I’m doing this to fulfill Linda’s term and that’s how I look at it. I would far prefer to have Linda alive, healthy and serving and me watching from the sidelines.
“On a personal level, I appreciate the fact they would consider having me back. It’s an honour they would think highly enough of me to want me to come back.”

LOOKING BACK ON A PREVIOUS VACANT SEAT

Any debate related to Steve Wookey’s appointment to fill the vacant seat was conducted in-camera, but it seems to have been a very amicable process.
Certainly not the acrimonious ordeal council endured back in 2013 when tasked with filling the seat left vacant by the departure for greener pastures by then alderman Sam Yusuf.
A highly divided council at the time also opted for someone with experience in the person of former mayor Cliff Barwick.
A decision hotly contested by Mark Cosens, Jeff Kohler and Lori Baldwin-Sands. The trio was adamant they had been kept out of the loop when Barwick was under consideration.
But here is the fascinating irony in the tangled maneuvering to fill the seat.
Whose name was also put forward in 2013?
None other than Linda Stevenson, who was the highest runner-up in the 2010 aldermanic race. She was the first choice of Baldwin-Sands.
Filling vacant council seats over the past 20 years has been a highly intriguing undertaking. It makes for a compelling read and thanks to the input from People columnist Eric Bunnell you can revisit City Scope posts to learn more about it here and here.

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