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Shaken by rumors they’ll be shut down or have goods confiscated over lack of proper permits, several of the craft vendors who’ve been setting up at the Clark Park Farmers Market are choosing to skip this week’s event — and are unsure whether they’ll come back.
The crux of the problem? There’s confusion over what permits are required and how much they cost. Everyone seems to have been told something different.
“We think this is a scare tactic,” said Bambii Buddahfly of GlammedGypsy, who started selling jewelry at the park last year. “You go from seeing 50 to 100 vendors or more in Clark Park to maybe 7 to 10. That’s how scared people were because they didn’t want to get their stuff taken away.”
A West Philly favorite since 1998, the market’s popularity grew during the pandemic, according to Philadelphia Parks & Rec, drawing people from around the city.
Some of the crafters who joined the bustle over the past couple years did so organically, without registering with market operator The Food Trust.
The official market runs every Saturday along 43rd Street from Baltimore to Chester avenues, according to Food Trust spokesperson Carolyn Huckabay. So any stands not in that area, like those set up along Chester Avenue and in the park’s pathways, are not under The Food Trust’s jurisdiction.
For a while, these vendors didn’t think they were doing anything wrong. Each week, they’d set up their tables, sell what they could, and go home.
But towards the end of last year’s season, in fall 2021, vendors told Billy Penn they began noticing a park ranger patrolling Clark Park. The ranger handed out a flyer, which, among other information, contained the sentence:
“If you would like to vend anything on Philadelphia Parks & Recreation property, you must obtain a permit or provide documentation of belonging to a permitted organization or group.”
Bambii, on the other hand, was told she needed a street vending license and a business license costing another $200 to $300.
According to the Parks & Rec website, anyone who provides goods or services and generates revenue on city parkland must have a contract to do so. But concession contracts only cover four categories: mobile food, cafes, bike rentals and golf carts — none of which apply to the craft vendors that frequent Clark Park. This fits with the department’s overall goal “to maximize recreational opportunities while limiting commercial activities,” spokesperson Maita Soukup told Billy Penn.
In practice, this means small vendors need to participate in official markets, like the Clark Park Farmers Market or Uhuru Flea Market.
Getting permission to sell at the farmers market through The Food Trust is actually pretty simple and affordable. Prospective vendors must submit an application, according to a handbook published online. Once accepted, they pay a $45 fee to vend, plus $10 per additional 10-foot by 10-foot space.
It’s unclear if jewelry sellers like Bambii and Brijette would have been accepted if they’d filled out the application. There’s heavy competition for space at Food Trust markets, which take place at locations across Philadelphia, and priority is given to food vendors, per the handbook.
But over the past couple seasons, the craft vendors who dotted Clark Park every weekend cultivated a clientele of their own.
Several of these vendors said last week they received what they interpreted as a final warning: that inspectors from the Department of Licenses & Inspections would be coming through to enforce the permit requirements. If proprietors returned to the market without the proper documentation, they would be asked to leave and potentially have their goods confiscated.
That doesn’t appear to be imminent. L&I inspectors are “not planning to visit the Clark Park farmers market on Saturday,” spokesperson Karen Guss told Billy Penn.
Parks & Rec spokesperson Soukup stressed that if necessary, the department “can request assistance from L&I vending inspectors in the future.” There’s no scheduled date for enforcement measures, per Guss, but the potential penalties range from $75 violation notices to confiscation of goods.
For small businesses like Bambii’s and Brijette’s, confiscation can mean losing weeks of work and hundreds of dollars.
“This is people’s bread and butter,” Bambii said. “This is how they get their bills paid, and how they take care of their children. It’s how they live.”