KIPS BAY — A popular farmers' market in front of Kips Bay Plaza was nearly booted from its spot this week after a developer suddenly complained about it to the community board — but a surge of support from neighboring businesses convinced the board to let it stay.
The Murray Hill Market, which has had permits from the mayor's Street Activity Permit Office (SAPO) to operate on Second Avenue near East 33rd Street for the past year and a half, attracts a steady stream of customers and rakes in enough cash to donate thousands of dollars to its partner, the nearby school P.S. 116.
But Community Board 6 was contacted by J.D. Carlisle Development Corp., owner of Kips Bay Plaza, urging members to move the market elsewhere, according to Fred Arcaro, chairman of the board public safety and transportation committee.
Carlisle's rep complained that the market increasingly attracted vendors hawking odd tchotchkes instead of fresh food, and had begun to hog the sidewalk in front of its retail spaces.
The owner also claimed that Fairway — which is slated to move into a storefront abutting the plaza by the end of the year — could suffer if the market was allowed to remain nearby, prompting the board members to assume that the grocery chain shared its concerns.
Representatives from J.D. Carlisle Development Corp. did not respond to requests for comment.
But after getting a call for comment from DNAinfo.com New York, Fairway president Bill Sanford made a surprise appearance at the CB6 committee meeting on Tuesday night, where the fate of the market came up for a vote, and told the crowd that he was completely unaware of any push to remove the market from its current spot.
"We don't want you to think that we're in any way involved with this," Sanford said at the meeting. "We're good neighbors."
That came as a surprise to members of Board 6, which had already drafted a resolution advocating for a move based on Fairway's perceived concerns.
But Sanford reiterated that Fairway had nothing against the market and dispelled the notion that Fairway would have opposed it because it presented competition.
"We're not afraid of any kind of competition," Sanford said at the meeting.
Arcaro said Fairway's presence at the meeting "was a game-changer, in my view," and the outpouring of support from other community members and P.S. 116 parents prompted the committee to reconsider asking the market to move.
The Second Avenue location has "been phenomenal,” said Randi Strudler, a former PTA president at P.S. 116, who helps organize the market. “We made, in terms of net income for the school, over $12,000 last year. That is gold to us.”
The market began in 2008 as a collaboration between the vendors and the school. P.S. 116 charges a set amount for vendors to occupy space in the market, and whatever the vendors earn every Sunday is theirs to keep, Strudler said.
During its first two years, the market operated inside the school yard at P.S. 116, located on East 32nd Street between Second and Third avenues.
It lost money the first year and barely broke even the second, Strudler recalled, blaming the failure on the market’s location on a side street instead of a main avenue.
“It really didn’t attract any foot traffic,” Strudler said.
After the second year, the market moved to Second Avenue near East 33rd Street, in front of Kips Bay Plaza, and finally began to turn a profit.
“It’s 300-percent better for the school. It’s 300-percent better for every vendor,” said Omar Sais, 33, who operates the stand for Sara and Nancy Farms at the market every Sunday.
The school launched a petition on Change.org in advance of Tuesday's meeting, asking Community Board 6 to allow the market to remain on Second Avenue.
At the meeting, Strudler presented the petition to the committee with more than 200 signatures.
Strudler also acknowledged that the market has received some complaints in the past that vendor setups looked a bit unkempt. But the school has since encouraged the sellers to improve their presentation.
No one who attended the meeting spoke out against it, with many defending its role in the community.
"If the city has chosen, in its wisdom, to honor their permit time and time again, I don't see why they can't stay," said Carol Schachter, a Community Board 6 member.
The committee agreed, amending the drafted resolution to support keeping the market where it stands but limiting its range to the area just north of the plaza. That will keep vendors away from retail storefronts, but still allow them to benefit from Second Avenue foot traffic, Arcaro said.
The full board is scheduled to vote on the resolution on Dec. 12.