State College

Why is a popular Amish farmers market in State College looking for a new home?

The owners of a popular Amish farmers market in Hills Plaza are looking for a new home after 18 years of operation in that location.

Annie Wengerd, whose family operates the market in the Hills Plaza parking lot each year from May to October, said the property management company told the family this spring that they would need to leave their location.

Anthony “Tony” Vita, president of Vita and Vita Realty Corp., which manages Hills Plaza, Hills Plaza South and Short Hills Plaza in the State College area, said he and members of the property management company talked to one of the Amish farmers about finding a different location for the farmers market in early June.

They drove the farmer “around to our different shopping centers and we showed him alternative locations and he just has to say yes, but he has not given us an answer,” Vita said.

He declined to say why the Amish had been asked to leave their location in the Hills Plaza parking lot, and directed all other questions to Giant, which opened a new location in the plaza on June 6.

A man picks a zucchini at the Hills Plaza farmers market on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. Abby Drey

Ashley Flower, manager of external communications for Giant, said the company doesn’t talk about the terms of its lease publicly.

“We did reach out to the farmer as we were coming into the new location as part of our process in opening and we did want to explore ways to work together with him,” she said.

Giant offered the Amish farmer an opportunity to sell his products in the new store, Flower said, because “we thought that would be a win-win situation.”

“He declined that offer ... and we were disappointed in that, we thought it would be a great relationship for all of us,” she said.

Flower declined to say why Giant wanted to negotiate with the Amish farmer or why his market needed to move, citing the confidential nature of the company’s lease and agreement. She did say Giant had been in talks with the farmer for a couple of months.

News of the market’s pending location change has many market regulars upset.

On a sunny, hot Tuesday this week, the Amish market was in full swing, with dozens of patrons picking out berries, fresh corn and other produce.

Fresh blueberries at the Hills Plaza farmers market on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. Abby Drey

Jean Hazlett, of College Township, and Cathy Bailey, of Julian, were examining ears of corn. Both regulars at the market, they had heard all about the Amish having to move.

“It’s wrong, they should not have to move,” Hazlett said. “It’s not fair to them, as far as I’m concerned.”

Bailey said she drives all the way from Julian because the market has the best produce around, and most of it is only available in the summertime.

“This is the best. They have the best stuff ever,” she said.

Chris Greeg, another market regular, said the market getting pushed out is “terrible.”

“I’ve loved coming to these things to get fresh produce and I realize Giant’s trying to establish their situation, but, you know, we go to grocery stores for different items,” he said. “I think (the Amish market) is unique. It’s nice to come and get some fresh produce that’s local.”

Flower said Giant thought the Amish farmer’s products were unique and knew they were well received by community members.

“We certainly have listened to the community and our customers,” she said.

The offer for the farmer to sell his products at the new Giant is still on the table, she said. But according to Wengerd, the family is still looking for a new place to take their market.

“We are looking for another place,” she said. They have looked at several spaces such as the Westerly Parkway Plaza and Short Hills Plaza, located to the rear of Hills Plaza. A couple churches have approached them about donating space for the market, she said.

Hazlett said that if the market moved, she would move with them.

“I’m not going to abandon them at all,” she said.

Sarah Paez covers Centre County communities, government and town and gown relations for the Centre Daily Times. She studied English and Spanish at Cornell University and grew up outside of Washington, D.C.