By Ed Perratore
Representatives from Foodchester Inc., the Pleasantville-based nonprofit that runs the Pleasantville Farmers Market, reviewed ideas last week with village officials to improve the flow of vehicular traffic in the vicinity of the market at Memorial Plaza.
The market’s operation in the village’s busiest parking lot, adjacent to the Metro-North train station, can fray some shoppers’ nerves, said Steven Bates, Foodchester’s executive director of market operations.
Bates, along with Foodchester President Peter Rogovin, said adding two people to help patrons line up to park or to drive in and out of the lot safely should be considered. One of the two individuals should be a village police officer, Bates said.
“This officer would be primarily concerned with safety and keeping a clear right of way at the entrance and the intersection of Memorial Plaza and Bedford Road,” he said.
The other, which they called a “parking lot monitor,” could help maintain the order of cars in the lot. As drivers look for spaces, the monitor would ensure the first car in the line gets the available spot and tell them to move the line forward, Bates said. The monitor would also direct drivers to nearby lots during the market’s peak hours of 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.
“That parking lot monitor is more of an emissary for the market, helping keep things calm so people don’t come in with their nerves all frayed,” Bates said.
The market operates at the north end of Memorial Plaza from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. virtually every Saturday from April until Thanksgiving featuring more than 50 vendors.
Bates referred to a Foodchester survey from last fall which revealed that 115 out of 125 negative comments concerned parking in the Memorial Plaza lot. The impetus for adding the two personnel arose from the survey results.
Rogovin said the issue is part of an ongoing dialogue with the board on how to manage crowds. Parking can be difficult near the popular market, which can draw several thousand patrons on a Saturday.
“This is not just a farmers market issue, this is an example of tough parking in town and the need for signage and more parking and better directions,” he said.
Filling the two positions, however, may not be easy. Officers who have put in long hours during the week have not come forward to accept the offer of overtime to man the Memorial Plaza lot during market hours, Village Board members told Bates and Rogovin during the Apr. 22 board work session.
“Our best option is to take an officer that’s already on duty and station that person there for those two hours, let’s say, with the understanding that if there’s a call and they need to go, they need to go,” said Village Trustee Joseph Stargiotti. “Their other priorities may take priority over this function at that moment.”
The parking lot monitor could be an easier hire, but strong diplomatic skills would be essential, especially considering the activity in the area and that drivers frequently pull up to pick up family members at the station.
“This person is a highly visible representative of the Village of Pleasantville and the market, something which we don’t currently have,” said Bates. “That presence in the lot will simply keep people aware of norms. They’ll realize, I can’t sit here [in my car], I have to move on. There’s a sense of fair play.”
Bates and Rogovin stressed their desire to make shopping as enjoyable as possible for the market’s patrons, which bills itself as the county’s largest year-round farmers market. The visitor won’t return if the customer gets a parking ticket.
“What makes people complain is that they feel they have other options,” Rogovin said, referring to neighboring markets and Whole Foods in Chappaqua. “They say, ‘I came here from Scarsdale to buy $100 in vegetables and you greet me with a ticket,’ as if we saw you buying vegetables so we ran over and gave you a ticket. But that’s the perception. The more effort they go to, and the more options they have to go somewhere else, the quicker they are to feel frustration.”
The village is currently finalizing the job description for the parking lot monitor and may first consider applicants with school crossing guard experience.
“An unmanaged lot is an unmanaged environment,” Bates said. “That’s like going to the bank and there are no lines. It’s like a free-for-all. People don’t like free-for-alls.”