Event bookings displace Marfa Saturday Market, ending season months early

Photo Courtesy Melinda Beeman.

MARFA — The Marfa Saturday Market, a weekly gathering where local purveyors have sold their goods for 17 years running, hosted its last market of the year on September 3 — cutting its 2023 season short by nearly three months. The market would typically run until around Thanksgiving, said organizer Malinda Beeman, who announced its abrupt discontinuation last week.

The reason for the sudden and premature end to the beloved mainstay’s season, Beeman explained, was a chronic scheduling conflict with the space the group occupies each Saturday morning. The market sets up shop under a covered pavilion attached to the Marfa Visitor Center inside the USO Building, which the City of Marfa rents out for private events. In an email to Beeman dated April 30, Marfa Tourism Director Jennifer Conners explained that the building was booked nearly every weekend for the coming three months, and that the city had decided to block off the pavilion any time the building was reserved in order to avoid any potential conflicts.

“Going forward, anytime the entire building is rented for an event at the USO, the Saturday Market will not be able to be held under the Pavilion,” wrote Conners. “This is to ensure there are no misunderstandings in the future.”

There had been a history of miscommunication between the city and market organizers, said Beeman and Bob Schwab, a local produce seller who has been involved in the market since its inception. At times, said Beeman, a last-minute notice from the city about an event — usually a wedding — had left the market scrambling to find an alternative location, usually in the parking lot of the Marfa National Bank.

The weekend prior to Conners’ email, said Schwab, market organizers had been told at short notice that a wedding party wished to use the pavilion space given the pleasant weather — in that instance, the city simply instructed the market to have vendors packed up and out of the space by 10:30 a.m., just half an hour prior to their usual end time. 

It worked out, but Beeman was left frustrated by a lack of concrete scheduling — she reached out to city administrators, stating they had “dodged a bullet” and requesting notice of any scheduled events for the next month. That’s when Conners replied with the dates — all but two weekends from September through November — and notified Beeman of the city’s new policy.

In an email to The Big Bend Sentinel, City Manager Mandy Roane explained that the straightforward policy is intended to avoid any unforeseen conflicts, between last-minute bookings and last-minute requests from renters to use the pavilion.

“When someone rents the entire building, the pavilion is included and we’ve had people who decided to use the space after their original application, which is their right as a paying renter … Also, we’ve had people rent the entire building on short notice and that gave us little time to notify the market,” wrote Roane. “Since this has happened more than once, it made sense to us to block out the entire USO space, pavilion included when the whole building is rented out.”

But Beeman, who called the response “hugely disappointing,” sees the city’s response as a dismissal of the market’s importance to the community. The market has always operated independently, she said, and provides an avenue for local sellers to make extra money selling their wares — some of whom are senior citizens with few other ways to make money, she said. The market has also been a focal point for community happenings.

“A farmer’s market can be a vital, important place,” said Beeman. “We’ve had everything from raising money for cheerleaders to the Blessing of the Animals to kids painting rocks to help support their schools.”

She would like to see the city actively support the market in some way, she said.

“The city doesn’t seem to want to embrace the idea that it’s something that we can enhance, and if they supported us that we could really make a difference,” said Beeman. 

Schwab agreed. He sees the market as an important community resource, where neighbors come together, form lasting connections — even welcome out-of-towners who are charmed by the local gathering. Some vendors, and some regular visitors, come from neighboring cities: Presidio, Fort Davis, even Van Horn. 

“It’s a wonderful mix of the community, and it’s a great thing to behold,” said Schwab. He noted that other cities in the region put money into funding farmer’s markets — Marfa’s has operated independently for 17 years.

He said he would like to see the city reserve the pavilion space for the market on Saturday mornings between the hours of 8 and 11 a.m. 

“It seems to me it would be worth it for the city to support that, and to say, you know what, let’s make it available to the citizens of Marfa, and if people want to have their bachelorette party there or their wedding, that one part of the facility is just not available for the three hours once a week,” he said.

But for now, the USO pavilion is the best the market can do, and it is dependent on the city’s schedule. While there was discussion of moving the market to the library courtyard last year — in hopes of securing a reliable, permanent location — the item never appeared on a City Council agenda, to the surprise of organizers. Instead, Council renewed the standing agreement to let the market use the pavilion when available.

Roane attributed the decision to pass over the library to a rule forbidding commercial activity at the library space — the rule that had prompted organizers to bring the issue before Council in the first place. “The use guidelines that Council approved for the space several years ago does not allow sales,” Roane wrote in an email. “Council was not interested in modifying the guidelines, so the Market did not qualify to use the space.”

In any case, the market is expected to return in the spring — space and schedules allowing, of course.