Swift action saves farmers market

April 17, 2009
By

David Taber

JP CENTER—Community response last week to a move by the Bank of America to evict a farmers market from its parking lot set the national bank branch back on its heels.

The bank still has concerns about parking in the lot behind 677 Centre. St., bank spokesperson Anne Pace told the Gazette, but Stillman’s farm is welcome to continue using the space for its regular Tuesday and Saturday markets.

Stillman’s has sold produce in JP every season for a quarter of a century. Owners Genevieve and Glenn Stillman are planning to expand the market this year, bringing on bakers and local honey producers as well as a Hmong farmer who will sell locally-grown Southeast Asian staple crops. The Hmong are an ethnic group that lives primarily in Southern China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

“We are thrilled to be able to continue to host the farmers market in the parking lot,” Pace told the Gazette.

That was a very different sentiment than owners Glenn and Genevieve had heard on a message left on their answering machine a few days earlier, Glenn Stillman told the Gazette.

The Stillman’s first learned that bank manager Steven Poole wanted to talk to them on Saturday, in a message conveyed by their son-in-law, who had been running the Saturday market.

After a conversation with Poole on Monday, “We got a phone message [Tuesday] saying, ‘we can’t keep you there. You can call, but we made our final decision.” Glenn said.

The reason given in that message was that customers were complaining about parking, Glenn said.

“It was kind of like leaving a note saying you are leaving your spouse. It was so harsh,” Genevieve Stillman told the Gazette.

But the community and the city were having none of it.

The Stillmans sent out an e-mail letting the community know about the eviction on Tuesday. When they talked to Poole on Friday, Genevieve said, “He encouraged us to get the word out as soon as possible [that the market would be allowed to stay] so people would stop calling and coming in to complain.”

Carlos Icaza, head of the JP Business and Professional Association (BAPA), said he heard the news from Felicia Sanchez, proprietor of the Centre Street Café, on Tuesday, and immediately began spreading the word.

He sent out his own mass e-mail about the eviction and within a few hours “my mailbox was full. I am pleased. This is just so JP, people get on top of things really quickly. Its good,” he said.

Mayor Thomas Menino’s office got in on the action, too. Colleen Keller, JP coordinator in the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, offered Curtis Hall as a replacement location, Genevieve said.

“The city moved quickly to make sure there was space available at Curtis Hall,” Keller told the Gazette, “The mayor cares about farmers markets. He knows how important they are for foot traffic and local businesses, and he cares about community needs.”

Genevieve said the Stillmans were also considering other locations, including the Loring-Greenough House and the South Street Mall and Courts.

They were determined to stay close to JP Center, she said.

Icaza said he was impressed with the bank’s response. “Bank of America found out what was going on, and it stepped back pretty quickly,” he said “I think JP owes a debt thanks to Steve Poole for responding so fast.”

For more information about Stillman’s Farm, including its Community Supported Agriculture farm share program, see www.stillmansfarm.com.