The Economic Impact of London’s Western Fair Farmers Market

Written by  //  April 27, 2012  //  Profiled Projects  //  Comments Off on The Economic Impact of London’s Western Fair Farmers Market

Public markets have long served as a celebrated component of great cities across North America. Examples like Quincy Market (Boston), Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (San Francisco), and Granville Island Market (Vancouver) are easily recognizable as famous urban landmarks. From a planning perspective, however, it is the locally-supported markets that play the most important social and economic roles within our communities.

I recently toured The Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market in London, Ontario, with Michael Clark from the Old East Village Business Improvement Area. Open year-round on Saturdays, the market features a mix of fresh and prepared food, as well as crafts and merchandise. Since opening in 2006, the market has been credited with reducing the cost of a nutritious food basket in Old East Village by 12%.[1] For those who read the previous article on food deserts, Old East Village was one of the areas in London most impacted by the suburban relocation of grocery stores. In addition, the market’s ability to draw customers has created a strong anchor for the adjacent retail strip. Lastly, the market’s reduced operational entry barriers has allowed it serve as an incubator for small businesses, a number of which are expanding to become permanent retailers in vacant space nearby.

Under his thesis supervisor, Dr. Jason Gilliland, Michael Clark studied the economic impacts of the Western Fair Farmers Market. The results of this research illustrate the demographic composition and origin of customers, as well as their consumption patterns, mode of travel, and consumer preferences.

Visitor counts conducted at entrances measured an average foot traffic of 2,404 people on market days, resulting in an estimated 122,500 visitors over the course of a year. Peak volume times for customers occurred from 10:00AM to 10:40AM, and 11:30AM until 12:00PM.

Intercept data shows that Western Fair Market is serving customers from across London, with only 10% originating from within a 1km distance. On average, 80% of visitors travelled to the market by private vehicle, although this number drops to 25% for those living within 1km. Nearby visitors were also much more likely to shop at the market on a weekly basis.
The majority of items purchased at the market were food related, despite the concentration of artisans on the second floor. ‘Every week’ visitors were the highest consumers of fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats, while ‘first time’ visitors focused more heavily on ready-to-eat products. On average, customers spent $39.79 at vendors within the market, and an additional $15.01 on retailers within the local neighbourhood.
In addition to direct customer spending, Michael estimated the impact of local purchases by market vendors by applying economic impact multipliers. Research has shown that independent retailers tend to have higher local economic impacts than national chain stores, as profits and related spending tends to stay within the community. In sum, the Western Fair Market is estimated to have a net economic impact of nearly $9 million on the local neighbourhood.

Considering Western Fair Market has only existed since 2006, its successes to date are impressive. Instead of pushing wholesale gentrification, the market appears to be driving grassroots local economic growth and is providing a stabilizing anchor to Old East Village. As someone who conducts similar primary research studies for commercial retail centres, I am excited to see professional analysis being applied to a public market. The importance of understanding customer demographics, key drawing anchors, and relative market positioning applies to all forms of consumer retail. To compete effectively against commercial shopping centres and large-format retailers, it pays to apply some of their own tactics.

For more information on Michael Clark’s research please contact him through his LinkedIn Profile.

[1] Larsen, Kristian, and Gilliland, Jason (2009). A farmers‟ market in a food desert: evaluating impacts on the price and availability of healthy food. Health & Place, 15, 1158-1162. on the price and availability of healthy food. Health & Place, 15, 1158-1162.

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Reurbanist is a multi-disciplinary firm that blends land use economics with urban planning and economic development. At its core, Reurbanist believes that great urban places that are compelling and vibrant must find success at both a fiscal and social level. Stronger cities and urban destinations translate into improved job growth, municipal tax revenue, and a higher quality of life for residents.

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