Urbana market to end use of tokens

URBANA — Organizers are getting ready for the 2013 season of Market at the Square, and visitors might notice a few changes when the first market opens on May 4.

Attendees might want to have cash in their pockets when they show up this year as officials plan to phase out the Market Scratch program, which enables visitors to make payments with debit and credit cards.

In the past, visitors could pay up front with their credit cards and receive wooden tokens in return. Those tokens could be used as money at vendor booths.

The market sold $72,552 worth of credit and debit tokens during 2012, the third year it accepted those payments. But that brings equipment rental and transactions fees, and making sure vendors get paid created a heavy administrative burden, said market director Natalie Kenny Marquez.

"It was kind of a decision made on the recommendation of the finance department, but also for just ease of administration," she said.

That does not necessarily mean market visitors will not be able to use credit cards at all. Some vendors have their own equipment to accept those transactions.

Any Market Scratch tokens that visitors received in 2012 will still be accepted during the 2013 season.

The market will continue to accept LINK cards, and Kenny Marquez said officials are in the process of applying for a grant that doubles the value of a visitor's LINK payment, up to a maximum $20.

The market sold $17,800 worth of LINK tokens during 2012, Kenny Marquez said, and $6,155 worth of tokens were given to LINK customers at no cost as a result of that grant.

Overall attendance decreased a bit in 2012, said Kenny Marquez. She estimates that 132,300 people visited the Market at the Square last year — that is about 4,900 patrons per weekend.

But it was an extremely hot summer.

"Despite the very hot weather, attendance was very steady," Kenny Marquez said.

She said she hopes additional marketing and promotion of the Market at the Square can get that number back up again this year.

Vendor participation was up in 2012. About 71 vendors were at the market per weekend last year, she said, and that number is up from 66 in 2011.

Kenny Marquez said she is most excited this year about a new interactive map that will allow visitors to search for products or get information about vendors while they are at the market. The map is web-based and will be accessible on mobile devices.

Vendor registration opens on Friday. More information is available at urbanaillinois.us/market.

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