Clark Fork River Market organizers were thrown a curveball last week when the Wilma Residential Board announced that vendors will no longer be allowed to use parking spaces under the Higgins Avenue Bridge.
"I guess we kind of got in the way a little bit," says Clark Fork River Market Manager Franco Salazar. "They ended up taking them back."
The decision complicates Salazar's job, as the market has more than doubled in size in just three years, growing from roughly 55 vendors in 2009 to 130 this year. And the announcement came less than a month before the market's April 30 opening, leaving Salazar scrambling to find space for its many local food purveyors.
"That makes it a little more difficult," he says.
For seven years the market has, based on a verbal agreement, used 12 parking spaces under the Higgins Street Bridge and an additional 12 spots east of the Wilma. But, as Wilma Residential Board President Jeff Aresty wrote in a letter to market organizers, dated April 6, "this move just did not work for everyone."
At least one Wilma resident has come forward to denounce Aresty's decision: State representative and Poverello Center Director Ellie Hill says Aresty is acting unilaterally to the detriment of the community.
"I was shocked to hear we were hamstringing the market...My own internal polling of Wilma owners found no one single resident who agrees with Mr. Aresty's decision," Hill says. "In fact, I have found all Wilma owners, both on the commercial and residential sides, instead wish to share their parking space with the market. We see it as our honor and privilege."
Hill is mobilizing opposition to Aresty's decision. Meanwhile, Salazar is making do with what he has, creating a waiting list and working to identify additional riverfront spaces for existing and future vendors.
"We could grow more," he says.