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Market driven 

In a more corporate setting, the question being posed would involve the terms “management team” and “commitment.” But this is a meeting to talk about raising money for the new Seaport Farmers’ Market, so what the prospective investor asks is more like “Are you going anywhere, Fred?” Standing in front of about 20 people Thursday night in the Brewery Market, dressed in a striped sweater and looking every bit the antithesis of the greedy executive, market manager Fred Kilcup doesn’t understand the question at first. Then he does. And he laughs. 


“I’ve been here 25 years, and we started with seven vendors,” he says. Now that the market’s success has brought it to the next exciting stage of its long life, bailing is apparently the furthest thing from Kilcup’s mind. “Where would I go?”


The last time the Halifax Farmers’ Market had its own, purpose-built location, the building opened in 1916. That property survived the Halifax explosion
---people who lost their houses gathered at the market to stay warm---but couldn’t escape development trends. The Market Street landmark was demolished in 1969 to make room for Scotia Square. The displaced farmers bounced around different sites, including the Forum, the Devonshire rink and the Civic Arena, before settling into Alexander Keith’s former brewery with a handful of vendors in the early ’80s. Kilcup joined the fold as a vendor, selling his pottery, and became manager in 1991.


Since then, the pendulum has started swinging back from the consumptive convenience of malls and their evil cousins, the big-box parks. Local, human-scale producers have cachet, and farmers’ markets are booming. The Halifax Farmers’ Market has grown radically in number of both vendors and customers, to a point where it’s threatened by its prosperity. Which brings us to Kilcup’s slide show for potential Seaport Market investors.


“Traffic is up 435 percent since 1991. We have more than 200 vendors. We’re at capacity in the Brewery Market,” he says. Add in some recent rent hikes, and the business decision is simple: “We’ve gotta move.”


The Seaport building, planned for a site on the waterfront near the Pier 21 museum, is almost twice the size of the Brewery market. (Including exterior shopping areas, the Seaport has nearly three times the floorspace.) Most of that extra space will go toward making more room for customers, to alleviate the market rage so familiar to shoppers during peak times Saturday mornings. Unlike the Brewery market, the Seaport will be open all week, letting individual vendors choose their days of operation.


The Seaport is better and bigger. Using environmentally savvy technologies, the building will be a model of sustainability---generating its own power, heating itself in winter and cooling itself in summer with a fraction of the energy use of a typical structure. This comes with a $10 million price tag, and a financing scheme as complicated as its innovations are green. 


To oversimplify: If the farmers’ cooperative can raise $2.5 million from private investors, that show of community support will trigger various government agencies to pony up the rest of the $10 million. And the farmers have set up a special fund that gives you crazy tax breaks for investing, while they control the market. (To undersimplify, click “investment” at halifaxfarmersmarket.com, or attend Kilcup’s Brewery Market sessions. This week’s are Saturday morning and Tuesday February 5, at 7pm.)


When Kilcup finishes his presentation, I am overcome with Farmers’ Market exuberance and buy two $50 shares in the Seaport building fund. It’ll probably never pay dividends like Wal-Mart stock, but I’m sure it’s an investment in something more important: business that realizes the bottom line is about more than the bottom line. “When you look around the market Saturday morning, you see people hugging each other all over the place,” Kilcup says. “At big-box stores, all you’re hugging is big boxes.”

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