Central Farm Market co-founder Debra Moser said her patrons have left little doubt as to their frustration about a new parking policy that means most must park away from the Bethesda Elementary market site.
She’s also not sure if the popular Sunday morning market — facing pressure from a group that rents out Bethesda Elementary and the next-door Bethesda Library — will be able to continue.
“The parking situation has made our patrons angry at us and we take the brunt of their anger,” Moser said. “We have tried to bring the community together with this market and for the most part, it works well. However, if the other school users and the library continue to experience frustration with us, well, we don’t know what the future will hold for the market.”
The problems came to a head last fall, when Central Farm Market said it got numerous complaints from Congregation Beth El, which rents the inside of Bethesda Elementary for religious school on Sundays during the time the market operates in the parking lot.
Central Farm Market said the two groups had been talking for the past two years about how to resolve a shortage of available parking spots for religious school staff and parents — presumably due to market customers taking those spots.
But in October, Montgomery County stepped in.
The county’s Office of Community Use of Public Facilities began to require the market to pay $6,000 until the end of the school year in June for a security guard to monitor the main school lot and enforce the new regulations. The regulations say market patrons can’t park in section A of the lot (displayed here). Sections B and C are typically filled with vendors, booths and tents, even in the smaller winter season that started this month.
“Farmers markets are not big economic enterprises, and as such, most are run by municipalities,” Moser said. “We opened this market to benefit a community we live in and we love.”
Beth El officials did not return a request for comment. Moser said many parents of Beth El religious school students park and go to the market, so it’s not always easy to distinguish which driver is with which group.
The parking crunch at the market site has caused a spillover to the Bethesda Library next door.
That has made library patrons and staff in search of spots unhappy. Moser said Central Farm Market has repeatedly told patrons not to park at the library lot past 11:30 a.m., when the staff starts arriving for its noon opening.
Earlier this month, Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Director Ken Hartman asked the market for help with the spillover of Central Farm Market customers parking in the library lot.
“The Bethesda branch of MCPL is one of the major businesses in Bethesda from the standpoint of customer activity,” Montgomery County Public Libraries Director B. Parker Hamilton said in a statement about the situation. “However, our customers have had difficulties in finding parking spaces in the library parking lot, and this has negatively impacted their library experience. Just like other businesses in Bethesda, we need to ensure that our customers have a place to park when they come to use the library.”
MCPL facilities boss Rita Gale is working with Hartman on the issue.
“We appreciate being a business in Bethesda; however, we need to take the steps that will enable our customers to use the resources and programs of Bethesda Library without having to wonder if they will find a place to park,” Hamilton said.
Moser said the market still will have a concierge service in the spring, summer and fall and it will have its set of four handicapped spaces on-site in all seasons. During the winter market, customers can go to the MeatCrafters tent for help walking bags to cars across the street.
Central Farm Market has encouraged patrons to park at one of a few free county parking garages nearby, including the one between St Elmo and Cordell Avenues.
Still, Moser herself sounded plenty frustrated with the situation.
“We hope everyone feels the same and that we can work together to make it work for all involved,” Moser said.