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The Hollywood Farmers Market closed for one day. It cost vendors $175,000

·7 min read
LAPD officers with guns drawn July 31 on Hollywood Blvd. after a suspect fired shots from an apartment.
Los Angeles police on Hollywood Boulevard last Sunday during a standoff with an armed suspect. The standoff shut down the Hollywood Farmers Market. (Laurie Ochoa / Los Angeles Times)

On Sunday, employees from one of Los Angeles' top bakeries suddenly had to move more than 300 loaves of bread plus six sheets of focaccia away from its farmers market stand, but Andy Kadin of Bub and Grandma’s counts himself lucky. It could have been worse.

That morning, a man firing a gun and throwing items from the balcony of a Hollywood apartment building caused one of the largest and longest-running farmers markets in Los Angeles to shut down for the day, spurring about $175,000 in losses for its farmers and food vendors. No one was injured, and the suspect, Joseph De La Cruz, 42, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, is charged with seven felony counts, including possession of a firearm by a felon and unlawful possession of ammunition.

The occurrence marked the first-of-its-kind closure in the Hollywood Farmers Market’s more than 30-year history. The single day's loss resulted in thousands of pounds of unsold produce and left vendors scrambling to recoup the sales they depend on each Sunday. After his pivots, Kadin estimates he lost $2,000 in bread sales; his particular scramble involved reaching out to a number of food donation organizations to eliminate unnecessary food waste.

“I think the most important thing, other than making sure everybody's OK, of course, is making sure that food we have doesn't go to waste,” Kadin said. “That's the No. 1 thing for us: As long as we're operating and OK to pay our payroll and rent, I don't particularly care much about where the bread goes, as long as we get it somewhere.”

Two of Kadin’s employees were present Sunday and heard gunshots only 15 minutes or so after beginning to unload the Bub and Grandma’s stall. After being instructed to flee, they hid in the bread truck for about 45 minutes, unsure whether it was safe to emerge, before leaving the market and returning to the bakery.

Half of Bub and Grandma’s Hollywood Farmers Market sales are preorders; on Sunday, Kadin refunded all presale orders — about $3,000 — and immediately reached out to some of the bakery’s restaurants, corner stores and other retailers who serve his loaves.

“Those were products that we were selling for retail price at the market that we then had to sell for wholesale, which is 30% to 40% less than what we would make at the market, which is obviously a bummer,” Kadin said. “And even with that we only made up for $800 worth of the $3,000 of normal market take.”

Typically, the Hollywood Farmers Market shuts down only for major holidays, said Elizabeth Bowman, director of farmers market operations and interim executive director for Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles, or SEE-LA, who has worked for the Hollywood Farmers Market’s parent organization for about a decade and helps manage six markets. It was also closed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We've had all kinds of situations with people — it’s just the nature of being out in the street and in Hollywood,” she said. “We get to the market and find anything and everything on this street [like] drug paraphernalia. We carry around kitty litter as we're setting up the market to cover human and animal feces and other odors. It's really not uncommon to walk into a little bit of chaos, and so I can imagine that if the person had been throwing furniture and stuff, that wasn't necessarily super alarming.”

The first SEE-LA staffer arrived about 5:30 a.m. on Sunday to set up the street barricades; the rest of the team typically appears an hour later to clear the streets, and vendors trickle in to set up shop. It wasn’t until the workers heard shots fired about 7:30 a.m. that they began to operate differently.

Bowman says the team on-site that day immediately began instructing vendors to close down their stalls and for shoppers and sellers to evacuate the premises, which was also a directive from the Los Angeles Police Department. With the summer harvest at its peak, last weekend’s market was even more crowded with vendors than usual; some who specialize in summer-only produce especially rely on the farmers market for income.

SEE-LA receives a percentage of vendors’ sales each week to account for operations fees. Based on previous Sunday reports and what they’ve gathered this week, collectively, Bowman estimated a loss of about $175,000 in gross sales from more than 250 vendors — and a $16,000 to $17,000 loss for her employer — based on Sunday’s closure alone.

To help recoup those losses, SEE-LA launched an online fundraiser this week to benefit farmers and other vendors as well as SEE-LA; at the time of reporting, $6,295 had been raised of the $150,000 goal.

Finley Farms co-owner Christopher Finley says his family has been selling at the Hollywood Farmers Market nearly every Sunday for more than 16 years — and in that time, they’ve never experienced a dramatic market shutdown like this. The farm lost $4,000 in gross sales, but Finley says they all just feel fortunate that no one was hurt.

On Sunday, Brandon Finley, Christopher’s brother, left the farm in Santa Ynez in Santa Barbara County about 4 a.m. to drive what Christopher estimated was 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of heirloom, cherry and Early Girl tomatoes; numerous lettuce varieties; four kinds of melons; three types of onions; cucumbers; zucchini; blackberries; strawberries; raspberries and more to Hollywood, as he does each week. He set up the booth, was able to sell for 30 minutes, then was told to pack up for evacuation — and immediately drove back to the farm with more than three-quarters of their haul, also losing gas money in the process.

“We had a really nice load with a lot of different products, new products that were coming in,” Christopher Finley said, “so I was looking forward to being like, ‘All right, finally we’ve got some stuff that makes money — oh, wait, never mind.'”

Farmers markets account for 75% of Finley Farms' business, with the Hollywood Farmers Market being one of four weekly markets it sells through, in addition to wholesale restaurant accounts and operating a small farm stand on its land in Santa Ynez. That farm stand wound up being the Finleys’ saving grace this week, where many of last Sunday’s goods were sold to shoppers stopping by on Sunday and Monday.

“My wife and I were setting up our farm stand on-site at our house, and with [the closure] in mind, we started playing the poor-me card to our customers that were showing up,” he said. “We were like, ‘Our market in Hollywood got canceled because some guy was shooting on his balcony; today's a great day to make pasta, you should definitely get that case of San Marzanos you're always asking about,’ and, ‘You should be making pickles with the pickling cucumbers.’”

The Finleys feel lucky to run their own on-site stand, if not to recoup some of the financial loss, then to at least make good on their labor.

A harvest crew of eight had worked 10½ hours on Saturday harvesting produce for Sunday’s market, picking on the 70-acre farm throughout the day, then loading the truck in the evening.

“We weren't able to sell everything that came back from the Hollywood market,” Christopher Finely said, “but we made a pretty big dent. It just is what it is, and so you just forget about it and move forward.”

This weekend, they’re unsure of what the market’s turnout will be — whether shoppers will be frightened by Sunday's closure or be out in full force to support. No matter which, Bowman says, the Hollywood Farmers Market’s vendors will be back and waiting to welcome them.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.