Two weeks remain for a buyer with $4.5 million to step forward and buy the struggling Zerns Farmers Market, as the nearly century-old Gilbertsville business is set to close at the end of the month.
"It has been our intent that the buyer buy Zerns market and carry it on," said Ryan Cortez, a Kurfiss Sotheby's Realtor responsible for selling the property on East Philadelphia Avenue.
It's a tough sell.
Located in a rural pocket of Montgomery County, the 200,000-square-foot building, tucked behind a flower store and a restaurant, is in need of repairs and has been facing a dwindling sales and customer base in recent years. The parking lot, which could easily hold several hundred cars, is riddled with potholes. On Fridays and Saturdays — the only days the market is open — vehicles fill only a small portion of the lot.
Vendors who sell everything from food to baseball cards say they've steadily watched fellow merchants pack up their stalls and leave for more prosperous markets or malls.
Zerns, which opened in 1922, once had better days: times when the market was packed with vendors and customers, people turned out for the live animal auction and wrestling demonstrations, merchants sold farm-fresh produce and not Fresh Express bagged salad mixes, and people experienced their first dates and first jobs there.
With that in mind, Cortez said, Zerns management wants a potential buyer to carry on the market's legacy.
"People don't realize how important it is until they don't have it anymore," Cortez said.
Some people interested in buying Zerns — which the county appraised at $2.9 million — have different business plans for the property, Cortez said. He declined to discuss potential buyers' alternative plans, citing client confidentiality, but said some of those clients hail from as far away as Mongolia and Brazil, and as near as Boyertown, Berks County.
Even as the deadline approaches, Cortez said, the price of the property is firm at $4.5 million.
If no one offers to buy the property on or before Sept. 30, the market's official last day of business, Cortez said, the property will remain for sale, except it will be advertised as a general-use commercial property, not just as Zerns Farmers Market.
Still, Cortez said he was hopeful that someone will save Zerns and keep it as a market.