[Posted September 2, 2022]
Eamon Molloy has been a fixture of the Hillsdale Farmers Market since before there even was a market. From the planning stages through the market’s first days, to relocation, growth, and the trials of Covid, Eamon has been a volunteer, an organizer, and for more than 17 years, the manager. As the market marks its 20th anniversary, Eamon is stepping out of the role of manager and into a much deserved retirement.
In 1996, Eamon had just moved to Hillsdale and was a member of the first board of the neighborhood association. There was talk of starting a farmers market, but it wasn’t going anywhere amid concerns that it would be too hard. With a background in food and business, Eamon’s response was: “It’s not hard. What’s hard?” The rest is history.
For the first few years after its founding in 2002, the Market was located in the parking lot at Pancho’s Mexican Restaurant (which became Mucho Grande and is now Casa Colima), rent-free and operating on a handshake deal with property owner John Braidwood. Braidwood, says Eamon, saw the benefits the market could bring to the community. “Honestly, we can use more people like John Braidwood doing business like that,” he adds now.
Early on there were concerns that a farmers market would be bad for sales in the produce section of the grocery store just across the street, which at that time was a Nature’s. It turned out, though, that the best thing for a grocery store is to have a farmers market next to it, bringing an influx of customers and easing pressure on the produce section on a day when stock was usually low. Eamon explains: “I was in produce, so I always talked to produce managers. When we started talking about a farmers market, the Nature’s produce manager said to me ‘Oh god, that would save me,’”—Sunday was the furthest away from delivery day, and he never had enough fresh goods left by then to satisfy his customers.
Within a few years it was time to move. The market was well-established and was now being held year-round, not just seasonally, and more space was needed for vendors and parking; the new owners of Casa Colima were doing really well also, and needed the space for their customers to park. Eamon was happy to see the restaurant thriving, and so the market moved to the Rieke parking lot, “A win for everyone,” he says. “We finally had a restaurant in that spot that was a success, and PPS, the school principals, everyone was excited to have the market at Rieke.”
Over the years market attendance soared (“Really, there were too many customers at the peak,” says Eamon), and the staff grew from one (Eamon, who often worked 100 hours a week) to three, including an assistant manager whose duties included producing a weekly newsletter, the Grapevine.
Eamon fields emails from across the country requesting permission to use articles from the Grapevine, which has become a welcome source of recipes as well as market and general food news to subscribers. The newsletter helps the Market put the human face on agriculture so that people understand the challenges facing the farmers who produce their food, Eamon says. “Our customers can understand why strawberries are $4.50 a pint when they read about what the Ungers went through to get them to the market, having pickers come at one in the morning so they don’t have to be out in the fields in 85 degree heat. We don't get complaints about prices anymore because people understand that the farmers are working really hard.”
New programs were introduced, such as state and federally funded food assistance programs for low income shoppers and Power of Produce, an educational program in which kids participate in food-related activities and are then given money to spend in the market on whatever they choose.
When Covid happened, the Market adapted, instituting pre-ordering and drive-through pick-up. The economics changed, however, and the Market has yet to recover. Three months of revenue were lost, the number of vendors went down, and with a significant increase in customers using the SNAP and Double Up Food Bucks assistance programs has come a significant increase in costs to administer those programs.
Eamon sees the possibility of new fundraising events down the line, but points out that these are also opportunities to grow stronger connections with the community. And community is important, as 90% of Market customers come from Hillsdale and Multnomah Village.
What’s next for Eamon? First up is a two-week visit to Paris, where his youngest son is studying through the fall. After that, he's confident that something new will come up, probably having to do with food, but definitely with a more flexible schedule and less responsibility than running a weekly market. In over 17 years, Eamon has missed only a couple of markets and is ready to have weekends off.
“To tell you the truth,” Eamon says, “ I think the market will be better. Olivia and Lacey [newly named co-managers] are a great team, I’m blown away by their skill set and their ability to be flexible. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with it.” He expects the new managers will continue his tradition of food activism, food security, food justice and sovereignty.
A final tip from Eamon: “Come on the nice days, but come on the lousy days, too—you can get your shopping done faster.”
The following Grapevine article from August 31 announcing the transition to new managers is reprinted below with permission:
Announcing Eamon Molloy’s Retirement
by Olivia Spitzer
If you shop at Hillsdale Farmers’ Market with any kind of regularity, you’ve likely crossed paths with Eamon Molloy. Eamon is our market’s longtime manager, who first took on the role in 2004. He’s friendly, helpful, and seems to somehow know everything there is to know about produce. For many, his name is synonymous with the market. As the season’s change, so do we. Eamon will be retiring as market manager at the end of September 2022.
Eamon came to Hillsdale Farmers’ Market with a unique combination of skills, which helped propel our small neighborhood market into the successful venture it is today. With an MBA in business and a background in co-op grocery store management, Eamon knew best practices from spreadsheets to squash. Under his guidance, the market moved locations, expanded vendors, and incorporated beloved community events. More recently, he held the helm through the uncertain times when Covid 19 first emerged, piloting the market through changing guidelines and a changing landscape. Eamon is certainly one of a kind and has left an indelible mark on both our market and Hillsdale as a whole.
When approaching the idea of new management, the board took a moment to be thoughtful. The pandemic showed us all how traditional hierarchical structures had the propensity to stumble, or even fail, should illness or tragedy befall the leader. The board made the intentional decision to divest our market from these structures and embrace a different model of leadership. In response, Eamon’s position has been morphed into two co-market managers, who will share the work of Hillsdale Farmers’ Market daily operations. This new approach allows for more flexibility, more new ideas, and greater opportunities for the market to grow.
Since August 1, Lacey Waldon and Olivia Spitzer have been promoted to management of the market. Both will be familiar faces, if you have shopped with us this summer. Lacey Waldon has been staff with the market since 2021, and a shopper for nearly twelve years. An active member of the Hillsdale community, she volunteers, participates in the local business association, and is raising her son in Hillsdale. Lacey’s prior training includes business management and banking, a lovely compliment to Eamon’s outgoing skills. Olivia Spitzer started with Hillsdale Farmers’ Market in May, as Eamon’s assistant manager. Coming from a background in event management and carrying a degree in literature, Olivia was eager to take on both operational tasks and market communications.
Lacey and Olivia understand the enormity of taking over leadership from such a veteran market manager. No one can, or will, ever replace Eamon Molloy. The new management, together with the board, hope to continue all of Eamon’s great work in Hillsdale and take the market he shepherded to new heights. Eamon’s last market will be Sunday, September 25, 2022. Make time before then to stop by, wish him well, and ask him one last question about pickling cucumbers.