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Occupy LA costs farmers market business

A demonstrator sits outside a tent at the Occupy LA encampment in front of Los Angeles City Hall October 25, 2011. Occupying the same lawn as a local farmers' market, the movement has affected farmers' market sales.
A demonstrator sits outside a tent at the Occupy LA encampment in front of Los Angeles City Hall October 25, 2011. Occupying the same lawn as a local farmers' market, the movement has affected farmers' market sales.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

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Long before the Occupy Los Angeles protesters pitched tents in front of L.A. City Hall, another group regularly occupied that space – farmers. Every Thursday for the last four years, the City Hall farmers market would set up on the south lawn and sell vegetables, baked goods and prepared meals. Now that an encampment has claimed their space, the farmers have had to move their market across Main Street. Vendors say the change is hurting their business.

Now the two groups share different sides of the same street. Both have tents and signs. Both attract crowds – but one side is there to occupy. The other would rather sell you pie.

Heather Slater runs a stand called Simply Sweets. Although she's surrounded by pecan and pumpkin pies, moving her booth across the street has left a sour taste in her mouth.

"My sales are down 45 percent. Because customers – they have a routine, they don't know where to find you and because I have been located over here – they haven’t been able to find me, so business has been suffering," Slater said.

Ashley Martinez at Foodies Catering is in the same boat.

"This has been one of our top markets, and now we've had to cut down, because now it's just not the same as it used to be," Martinez said.

Martinez said the new location, tucked away in a plaza across from the east side of City Hall, is less visible than the old one. Because of the drop in sales, Foodies can’t afford to hire as many workers as before to grill burgers and bacon-wrapped hot dogs.

Martinez supports the Occupiers, but she says that in this case, they're doing more harm than good.

"They are talking about little people, but you know, it's really sabotaging our market and our numbers, and the workers who are now not having a day of work," Martinez said.

Foodies Catering is considering skipping the City Hall farmers market next week.

Susan Hutchinson helps organize this market. For two weeks she tried to find a way to share the City Hall lawn with the protesters. But the tents from the Occupy camp blocked the fire lanes the farmers market’s permits require.

"For a lot of these vendors and farmers, if you have a bad week, you have a bad month ... you know it’s tough," Hutchinson said.

So Hutchinson went to an Occupy L.A. public meeting and addressed the issue.

"I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I was going there to share our story and let them know that we are part of the 99 percent. And that we are happy to share with them, but we really would appreciate it if they could clear the fire lanes," she said.

Hutchinson said when she raised the fact that vendors were losing money, some people in the crowd booed her.

"It was inappropriate for me to use 'the M word.' As soon as I brought up money, you know, whaa! And so it was obviously the wrong thing to say – I was just trying to let them know how they were impacting the market."

Hutchinson says that even though the majority of demonstrators were interested in a compromise, they couldn't reach a full consensus. So she had to move her operation.

Demonstrator Lauren Helm, who’s spent a week in the encampment, stands in the market's former location on the City Hall lawn.

"That makes me sad and I hope that their clientele goes up again, and they can continue making a living and supporting themselves and their family," she said.

Helm said the protesters who she knows support mom and pop shops like the kind you'd find at the farmer’s market.

"'Cause they are just like us, they have families and they are trying to put gas in their cars and pay their bills. You know, we're all in this together," she said.

Benjamin Torres, a former U.S. Marine who’s volunteered at Occupy L.A. for more than a month, said it's all just an unfortunate coincidence.

"The farmers market has been accommodating and moved across the street," Torres said. "We support them and anyone who is not a bajillionaire. But at the same time there is a bigger issue."

The Occupy L.A. campers are helping to spread word about the farmers market's move with messages on Facebook and Twitter.

Many of the market's regulars are crossing Main Street and finding the new location. One of them is Patricia Diefenderfer, who picked up a salmon and brown rice platter for lunch.

"This space is such an underused space and I have never seen it so active and bustling," she said. "And I’ve never sat on this fountain here, and I just realized that – and it's great. So I think they should consider this as the permanent home in the future."

She says that perhaps the move is a blessing in disguise for the farmers market. Diefenderfer points out that the new location has a lot more built-in seating than the old one did.