Market struggles to pay county’s $50/hour rental fees

WINNSBORO – In a continuing effort to cover a $50 per hour rental fee the Fairfield County government has charged for use of the Farmers and Artisans market building since April of this year, the market vendors have been conducting monthly fundraisers.

For August, they prepared 121 prepaid chicken bog dinners that they sold for $10 each. Those who purchased the meals will be picking them up on Monday, Aug. 7, underneath the town clock.

Money from the sale will help cover the upcoming August rental fee. The monthly rental charges average between $700 and $950 per month.

The vendors raised the $950 July rent by raffling off a $495 Fire Disc grill donated by Porter Gas.

Vendor Valerie Clowney said it’s difficult for the market to raise the money. She said vendors pay $45 a year to participate in the market events, and they average $50 – $60 each in revenue on market days.

The vendor fees pay for necessities like insurance for the market days, but isn’t enough to cover the County’s $50 per hour rental charge. Plus, the vendors say they have to pay the rental fee 15 days in advance.

Until this past April, the vendors were allowed to use the building free of charge. Now they say they spend hours having to raise rent money through raffles and other fundraisers aside from their market work.

Jaime Vaine, one of the market managers said they are cutting costs this month by holding their Tuesday night market event on land owned by the Town in front of the Mt. Zion government complex free of charge.

She said the vendors paid most of the cost for the chicken bog fundraiser out of their own pockets.

“We hope to have enough from the sale to pay at least a month’s rent,” she said.

County Council Chairman Douglas Pauley has said that he supports the market, but that he feels the county must charge the market the same amount it would charge someone who wants to use the building for a wedding reception.

But the county has never installed air conditioning/heat or a sprinkler system to accommodate those kind of events.

When the vendors stated as much during public comment time at a recent county council meeting, county officials decided to call in the fire marshal to do a building inspection to determine whether the market can be used at all.  That inspection could occur as early as next week.

When the issue showed up on Facebook recently, the comments overwhelmingly favored the market vendors.

“Love the Farmer’s Market,” commented Dale Connor. “This gives us the opportunity to get fresh produce, nuts, dairy, craft items, etc. It gives us the ability to support locals. Why would this not be important to the county council?”

The building was renovated under Jason Taylor’s leadership when he was county administrator to accommodate a farmer’s market and a mural painted on the side of the building states as much.

“A farmer’s market brings people to town, to shop and eat,” Taylor said. “It brings in tourists.”

The building shields vendors from the elements and Taylor even had plans to renovate the parking lot behind the building to accommodate an outdoor market and other town events as well, much like The Alley in Aiken. But with a change of leadership, Taylor was forced out and took the Winnsboro Town Manager’s job. While the market building is located in the town, it is still owned by the County.

Some other towns and counties surrounding Fairfield not only do not charge the market vendors to set up shop on government property, but assist their markets in other ways.

Blythewood town government allows the Blythewood Farmer’s Market free use of prime park space on market days and provides $7,000 annually for the market to use for advertising and promotion. The City of Camden provides free parking space for the Kershaw Farmer’s Market.

Farmer’s markets, as non-profits, are eligible to receive accommodation or hospitality tax funds to use for advertising and promotion. While Taylor implemented both accommodation and hospitality taxes in the county in 2020, the county has not provided application forms for the funds.  Laura Johnson, the county’s interim administrator, says she will have the application available in August.

Last month, market vendors asked for a meeting with the county leaders to come to a better understanding about the market rental charge. That meeting was held last week.

The issue is expected to come up for a council vote in the next few weeks after council members return from a week at Wild Dunes resort at Isle of Palms for the Association of Counties meeting.

The chicken bog dinners are now sold out, and the orders will be available for pickup on Monday, Aug. 7 from 4:30 – 7 p.m. in downtown Winnsboro, underneath the Town Clock.

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]