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Rent hike could mean higher prices at Nashville Farmers' Market

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Shoppers may soon be paying more for fresh produce at the Nashville Farmers' Market. The downtown market is raising rent for vendors by as much as 40 percent, and some worry customers are the ones who will lose out.

George Robertson has been selling fresh food at the farmers' market for 33 years, but this year his same rented space costs much more.

"I've got a 10-foot-wide space here for $651 a month," Robertson said. "That's all the space it is."

Now, renting a single 10-foot-wide stall will cost Robertson and his fellow vendors an extra $195 a month. Robertson has five stalls, so he'll pay the city almost $1,000 more every month to rent outdoor, unheated spaces.

"We have four vendors here who are here year-round, and we are getting no help," he said.

If the farmers decide to pass along the entire price increase to their shoppers, buying a product - say, an onion - that used to cost $1 would now cost $1.40.

Farmers say they worry if their prices aren't competitive, shoppers will go elsewhere and more farmers will stop selling at the market.

The board that oversees the farmers' market raised rents, because the market is hemorrhaging money and is not even close to breaking even.

"It's just trying to figure out to bring the revenue in to support the cost," said Nancy Whittemore, director of Metro General Services.

The city is looking for a long-term solution, which thus far has been an elusive task.

"The goal is to bring in more merchants on the site so that one day you could start looking at a reduction in the rate," Whittemore said.

The rent increases come at a time when the city and state are pushing health initiatives, such as eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and shopping local.

"(Mayor) Karl Dean, please get interested in the farmers' market. Please help us down here," Robertson pleaded.

Farmers are hoping for a reprieve, saying they don't want to see markets like this one die on the vine.

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