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Zern’s Market to Close in September if no Buyer is found

            Declining business forced Jeff Stauffer to contemplate ending a 42-year relationship with Zern's Farmers Market, in Douglass Township, by the end of the season.

            "I was almost convinced this would be my last summer there," said Stauffer, whose family owns and operates Stauffer's Fruit Stand at 3762 Layfield Road in Upper Hanover.

            However, a recent decision by the owner to close the market, located at 1110 East Philadelphia Avenue, unless a prospective buyer emerges by the end of the September rendered his internal deliberations moot. According to Stauffer, market manager Bill Shaner handed out a six-paragraph letter to the vendors on Saturday explaining the decision to cease operations on Sunday, Sept. 30.

            Stauffer described the decision as inevitable. He said the loss of several large vendors in recent years has resulted in the loss of significant foot traffic, which led to a sharp decline in sales.  "Business there has been slipping," Stauffer said. "They lost too many large vendors over the last few years to remain viable."

            Owner Bobbi Gail Lipton described the current situation at the market, founded in 1922, as unsustainable. "It is time for us to close our doors," she wrote in an email posted on its Facebook page.

            The owner will consider serious offers from potential buyers until the facility closes, the letter states. Ryan Cortez, a Philadelphia real estate agent who has listed the property since December of 2016, said he continues to actively seek potential purchasers.

            Lipton, who lives in Hawaii and whose family has owned the market since 1949, wants the facility to continue in its current iteration, according to Cortez. Eighteen months ago, he said that Lipton's goal "is to sell it to someone who would maintain a farmers market, and take it to the next level." Cortez, with Kurfiss Sotheby's International Realty agency, further stated that his client expressed hope "that the right person will come forward and purchase the market."

            On Monday, Cortez deferred all additional questions on the issue to Shaner, who did not return a voice mail or an email.

            According to the letter posted on social media, the property, initially listed at a price of $7 million, has solicited queries from the Lehigh Valley, Florida, North Carolina London, Dubai and Brazil.

            "Though we have had several possibilities, we have not found the right buyer," the letter states.

            Stauffer, whose stand is located between door numbers 2 and 15, figures he has spent every weekend, save for six, at the market over the last 42 years. He called it a respite from time on the family farm.

            According to Stauffer, his grandfather began selling cucumbers at the market prior to World War II. He said at its peak in 2010, sales at the market accounted for 50 percent of the family's overall business. But it currently accounts for only 10 percent.

            Pete Hiryak, Douglass Township's manager, described the market property as a very valuable piece of ground. He said it could play a key role in the township's development of Market Street and the Route 100 corridor.

             The parcel, which covers approximately 25 acres, is zoned GC-General Commercial and can be accessed off Jackson Road and East Philadelphia Avenue, could support multiple retail and commercial uses, according to Hiryak.





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