SHELLY GARCIA Staff Reporter Fresh fruits and vegetables, direct from the country, sold in open-air stands right in the neighborhood. The idea of a farmers’ market in Studio City was so appealing, it quickly won the support of residents and merchants alike two groups who frequently find themselves at odds on civic issues. But eight months and numerous meetings later, the Studio City farmers’ market has yet to sell its first orange. In fact, though they may seem simple, farmers’ markets are surprisingly difficult to create, and even tougher to sustain, according to those who put these markets together. “There’s probably close to a 40 percent failure rate,” said Marion Kalb, executive director of the Southland Farmers Market Association, a trade group that represents 20 of the 40 farmers’ markets in L.A. County. “People underestimate what it takes to make a market.” For the Studio City group, it has taken months just to decide the basics when to schedule the market, where to locate it and how to arrange parking for it. Organizers have yet to tackle the questions of getting the required permits, recruiting farmers, deciding what products to carry and promoting the event. And though organizers finally seem to be on track to set up the market, it may not be up and running for the summer season. “We had hoped to open in July. Now we’re looking at August,” said Polly Ward, vice president of the Studio City Residents Association. “If not, we’ll have to wait until the spring.” Studio City’s situation is typical of what happens when communities try to put together farmers’ markets, veterans of such markets say. Organizers in Studio City hit their first snag when they attempted to find a location for the market. They had their eye on Ventura Place, a centrally located block that forms the third side of a triangle to the north of Ventura Boulevard and Laurel Canyon Boulevard. “It’s wide. It’s definable. It starts and stops, so it’s easily managed. It just has everything we were looking for,” said Ward. Holding the market on Ventura Place would have required closing the street to traffic, and the group had to apply to the city for a permit to do that. But after some initial research, it became apparent that there would be virtually no available parking if the market were held on Saturdays. Ultimately, the group was able to secure an offer from Home Savings Bank and Great Western Bank, both located at the intersection of Ventura and Laurel Canyon boulevards, and from CBS Studio Center, located a block away, to use their parking lots on Sundays, when banks are closed and there is little activity at the sound stages. Unfortunately, those offers came a bit late. Merchants along Ventura Place already had heard that organizers intended to close Ventura Place to traffic on Saturdays and they were not pleased. In fact, the approximately 30 merchants were outraged, fearing that their customers would go elsewhere rather than travel a block away to find parking. “People are not going to carry 15-year-old cats across Ventura Boulevard to get to my store,” said Ellen Hall, the proprietor of Ellen’s Blue Ribbon Grooming, who, along with other shopkeepers on Ventura Place, began planning a united opposition to the move. Ironically, the market organizers had begun the project as a way to reduce tensions in the community. “I wanted to help promote some things that would help everybody get along better,” said Dan Burrell, president of the Studio City Chamber of Commerce and owner of a California Pizza Kitchen in the area. “I don’t think there was a lot of opportunity for people to talk and communicate.” But most of the merchants along Ventura Place run smaller stores and are not members of the chamber, and felt no affiliation to the group. “We have always been looked at as a stepchild,” said Hall. “They cater to bigger businesses.” Convinced that the chamber once again was ignoring its concerns, the group began talking about filing a lawsuit. Disaster was averted late last month, when the Ventura Place tenants were given assurances that the farmers’ market would be scheduled on Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., when business for those merchants who are open is especially light. But other problems remain. For one thing, Sunday is the most popular of days to hold farmers’ markets Encino and Hollywood both hold farmers’ markets on that day and it will be harder to recruit farmers Sundays, farmers’ market managers say. “Many farmers go to more than one market in a day and they’ll have other family members work different markets. But sooner or later, you’re going to run into the problem that they have only so many rigs and so many family members,” said Jane Allen, manager of the Encino Farmers Market, which is run by the Organization for the Needs of the Elderly. “It’s a concern I keep in mind all the time.” The Southland Farmers Market Association has a list of 400 member farmers from Fresno, the Central Valley, Kern County, Orange County and Los Angeles. Still, it often is difficult for farmers’ markets to get the proper mix of fruits and vegetables. “Something like citrus is easy to get,” said Kalb. “Mushrooms are harder because it’s a specialty crop.” It’s also hard to get farmers who sell eggs, gourmet greens, nuts, asparagus, artichokes and specialty potatoes. Even if they find the farmers, organizers still need to raise enough seed money to keep the market going for one or even two years while shoppers learn about it and begin shopping there. It takes at least 500 shoppers a day to make a farmers’ market successful, according to Kalb. Larger markets, like the one held Wednesdays in Santa Monica, get 5,000 to 7,000 visitors, she added. Research done by the association shows that about 90 percent of customers come to the markets from a five-mile radius. The trick is to make locals aware of the market, and then to change their buying patterns so they make repeat visits each week. “It’s not a one-shot deal that a lot of publicity is going to handle,” said Kalb. On average, it costs communities between $25,000 to $30,000 in start-up costs to cover promotions like street banners, salary for a manager, insurance and the cost of setting up an office, according to Kalb. The Studio City group is hoping their start-up costs will come in under that figure. “Printing, office space and accounting services are being donated,” said Tony Lucente, president of the Studio City Residents Association, which has agreed to put up $10,000. Total start-up costs will be between $14,000 and $18,000, which the group is attempting to raise, he added. If the efforts are successful, most agree that farmers’ markets can be rewarding. Customarily, farmers pay 4.5 percent of their gross sales to the market sponsor, which, by state law, must be a non-profit organization. Though no figures are available, estimates are that farmers’ markets can bring in $86,000 to $3.6 million, depending on the size and success of the venture. The average farmer takes in about $425 in a single day per market. The Encino market has become so popular that an average of 100 to 150 people wait to get in each Sunday, Allen said. And visitors often make use of other shops and restaurants in the area, bolstering those businesses as well. Studio City merchants are confident that visitors to the market will also become their customers. “People are going to come from North Hollywood and from Sherman Oaks and they are going to walk around the area and find out there’s a lot to do around here,” said chamber President Burrell.