After ten years, this summer the West Chester Growers Market welcomed a new market manager. West Chester resident Juliana Pash joined the WCGM team after collecting years of cross-country market experience starting with a move to Philadelphia in her 20s.
“I would take the trolley or walk,” she said of her routine trips to Reading Terminal Market. “It is still one of my favorite places to visit in the city.”
When the family moved to the Seattle area in 2005, she signed on as a volunteer with the town’s newly formed market and within two years she was running it. Then when the family moved back east, she took over the Downingtown farmers market in Kerr Park. During COVID, she tendered her resignation hoping to regain her Saturdays. Well, as it turns out, Saturday mornings were meant to be spent at the market.
“It’s a joke in the family when we travel. If there’s a farmers market we have to go,” she said with a laugh.
So perhaps it is no surprise she continued to stay in touch with local producers including Don Ervine, owner of Tally Ho Coffee and longtime member of the West Chester Growers Market. Earlier this year, he reached out about the position.
“I’m super excited,” said Juliana, who accepted the position in July and has spent the last couple of months learning the inner workings of the market. “It’s taken me this long to get my head around the who, what, when,” she said but now that she has a good understanding of the operation, she is ready to look to the future.
“I do think it needs a little jolt,” she said of the market which will celebrate its 30th anniversary in just two years. “I think it’s like sitting on a good ol’ comfy couch. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
And to be clear the market is not broken. Weekly attendance averages between 1,500 and 2,000 people, making it one of the largest markets in the area. Still, there are rumblings of declining attendance and lagging sales, especially during the winter months – and the market has seen a decline in vendors since the pandemic. In 2019, the market had 36 different vendors. Today the website lists 26 full-time members and between two and eight guest vendors depending on the week.
“There were holes on Saturday,” Julinana said, speaking both of the physical holes where a vendor booth should be and the gap in the offerings.
Some vendors were lost to closures. Others to the ease of online retailing.
“We miss seeing our wonderful customers at the market,” popular vendor Ellen April Handcrafted Soap shared on their website, “but we don’t miss the rigors of setting up and breaking down each week.” They left the market in 2021 after 16 seasons.
Vendor recruitment is one area Juliana would like to devote time to. She has begun digging through vendor applications and has already found three that have been approved by WCGM board members. Juisibox, a new fresh-pressed juices and smoothie vendor, will be onsite on Saturday. Katydid Hill Farm, a tea producer, is set to begin in November. She also wants to look at the market’s definition of “producer-only.” Not to change it, per se, but to better understand what it allows. Would a small market olive producer in Greece that presses the fruit locally to their production site qualify under the definition? “I think these are things that we explore,” she said.
She is also planning to redo the website and update the newsletter – “We need to have consistency with our communications,” she said. And she wants to work more closely with the market’s neighbors. “I do think we need to do a better job within the community,” she said.
By now the ideas are flowing – we chatted about vendor needs – what would you like to see? she asked me – onsite performances, kids’ events, giveaways, and market days. It’s clear she’s not yet come up with all the answers but it is also clear she is excited to be back at the helm of a market.
“That’s my passion,” she said. “Making sure the market and the vendors are successful and it’s an asset to the community.”
Originally published, Oct. 6, 2023
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