Beginning Saturday, February 17, the Saturday Farmer’s Market will move to Good Shepherd Plaza at 541 Main Street. The temporary relocation, to make way for Helix repairs, is expected to last through the spring.
Repairs on the crumbling Helix ramp, which connects Main Street to the Roosevelt Island Bridge and is the sole point of access for cars on the Island, are scheduled to begin February 15. During at least a portion of that time, cars in both directions will have to navigate a single lane of traffic. The Helix plaza, the longstanding home of the Farmer’s Market, will become a staging area for construction.
Every Saturday for nearly 30 years, Israel Wengerd, along with his brother David and a small crew of family and associates, have made the 200-mile drive from the Amish countryside of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, to bring fresh fruits and vegetables – as well as dairy, meat, baked goods, and more – to Roosevelt Island shoppers. The group from Wengerd Farms typically arrives around 3:00 a.m. and then begins quietly setting up tables and unloading produce, a process the group has undertaken in rain, snow, and howling winds.
This Saturday will mark the first time they have moved from their location under the Helix, located across the street from PS/IS 217. The school’s Parent Teacher Association operates the market with a permit from the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation. The PTA carries the liability insurance and charges vendors to set up tables.
Wengerd says the new location at Good Shepherd Plaza is a good area for a Farmer’s Market, and expects it to offer as much space, if not more, than the current location. The one downside, he says, is the lack of protection from rain or snow that they enjoyed under the Helix.
Brad Finkle from Hoboken Farms, which offers fresh bread and pastries, as well as its popular marinara sauce (billed by Hoboken Farms as “The most glorious sauce in the ever-lovin’ universe”), says he’s just happy a new location has been secured.
“We’ve been here for 20 years serving the good people of Roosevelt Island,” says Finkle. He says he’s grateful RIOC, the PTA, and Island families support the market, and that the market supports the Island. The market, which runs from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., also includes regular vendors Kitchen 36, which sells soups, and Vesco, which offers pickles and olives.
Last Saturday, Wengerd met with Public Safety Director Jack McManus to do a walkthrough of the new site. The current plan allows Wengerd Farms to park its two refrigerated trucks behind the chapel near the seawall. Vans and other vehicles will be allowed to unload at the Plaza and then park in the lot across Main Street from the Riverwalk buildings.
The market will be set up between Rivercross, left, and the Good Shepherd Chapel.
The $3.1 million project will be the first full repair of the Helix. According to RIOC Engineering Consultant Michael Russo, a large portion of the work is similar to what was recently performed on the Tram platforms. He says the elevated concrete repair will include selective demolition, rebar splicing, concrete patch infill, and waterproofing. Drivers should expect delays getting onto and off the Island, says RIOC Public Information Officer Alonza Robertson. During construction, large and oversized vehicles will be required to call Public Safety (212-832-4545) 48 hours in advance to request an escort onto and off the Island between 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
Soft-spoken and intense, Israel Wengerd has been running the Farmer’s Market since age 12 and remembers when he first started at the market in 1989. He recalls that the market was much smaller then and was located on the ground floor of the glass-enclosed Motorgate. On Saturdays, shoppers greet him like a longtime neighbor.
Although it’s the first time the market has been forced to relocate, it’s not the first time the issue has come up. In 2001, Gristedes management attempted to invoke a provision of its lease giving it a 1,900-foot “no-compete” zone, which covers all of Motorgate and much of Northtown. At that point, locations being considered included the Blackwell House area, Good Shepherd Plaza, and the area between Westview and Island House. Although the Wengerds agreed to move, Gristedes backed off after protests from residents.
[[Editor's Note: The story was updated February 15 with additional details.]]
[[Editor's note: A previous version of this story suggested that the construction might take as long as six months. RIOC's public information officer, Alonza Robertson, says this is not accurate.]]