BEVERLY — If you've ever wanted to run your own farmers market, here's your chance.
The city last week began advertising, for the first time, that it is accepting bids to operate a farmers market at city-owned Veterans Memorial Park.
The Beverly Farmers Market has been operating at that location for 10 years, but Mayor Mike Cahill said the city issued the invitation for bids in an effort to "formalize" an agreement between the city and a farmers market operator.
Until now, the city has simply granted permission for the current Beverly Farmers Market to use the park at no cost.
"We'll see what the (invitation for bids) yields for any potential income stream," Cahill said.
Beverly Farmers Market Director Estelle Rand said she agrees with the city's decision to advertise for an operator, and in fact encouraged officials to do so.
Rand started the Beverly market in 2009, prior to becoming a Beverly city councilor in 2014. She said going through a public bidding process will bring transparency to the relationship between her business and the city, and give other people a chance to compete for the job.
"I think it's totally appropriate," she said. "If somebody wants to say, 'Hey, I want to operate a farmers market,' they could present another idea. Ideally, this process means the city is getting the best that they can for what they are giving."
The invitation asks for sealed bids for a license to operate a weekly farmers market from June to October of this year, even though the Beverly Farmers Market began operating for the season last month. Bids are due July 25.
Cahill said the city intended to put out the invitation earlier, but added: "We'll see what comes on July 25 in terms of responses. If we get multiple responses, it may show there's a demand for more activity in the future."
Rand said she will submit a bid. She said she didn't know if anyone else is planning to do so.
"I plan on making an offer and hopefully it will be accepted," she said. "It would really be quite a wrench if it wasn't, because we're underway (for this season)."
The Beverly Farmers Market operates every Monday from 3 to 7 p.m. for 17 weeks between June and October at Veterans Memorial Park on Rantoul Street, across from the train station. It features about 25 vendors, including local farms and craftspeople, as well as live entertainment.
Vendors pay the market $20 per week to participate. The market also brings in money from grants and sponsorships. Rand said revenue is under $20,000, and includes money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that comes to the market but then is paid out to vendors.
Expenses include the salaries of two employees who work as individual contractors, as well as marketing and advertising costs, she said.
Rand said she runs the market as a for-profit company with herself as the sole proprietor, but it rarely makes a profit. She said she has not paid herself since she became a city councilor, on the advice of the state ethics commission.
"I operate a business on city property and I'm also a city councilor. They said that's a pretty gray area and recommended that I not make money off it personally," she said.
The farmers market has been using Veterans Memorial Park for free since 2010, with the approval of the City Council. Rand recuses herself from that council vote each year.
She said going through a public bidding will bring more transparency to the process, considering her dual role as the market operator and city councilor.
"It's hard because I'm wearing two hats right now, but for me personally I will feel very relieved to have a transparent process to operate a farmers market on city property," she said.
In Salem, the city also allows its farmers market to use city space at no cost, in Derby Square. The Salem Farmers Market is run by Salem Main Streets, a nonprofit.
Salem Main Streets Executive Director Kylie Sullivan said running a farmers market aligns with the organization's goals of promoting the downtown and bringing the community together.
"Income and profit with farmers markets is really negligible when it comes to the time it takes to run it," Sullivan said. "When you see the hours spent, nobody's making a lot of money."
Beverly City Council President Paul Guanci said the invitation to bid for the farmers market is an effort by the city to make sure it is following proper procedures.
"I don't think anybody has done anything intentionally wrong," he said. "This has flown under the radar for so long."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.