For nearly six years, Wayne Hatosy sold coffee and edibles during the popular Charleston Farmers Market in Marion Square.
It was profitable, even as he competed with a nearby Starbucks, selling up to 400 cups a day of locally roasted beans.
But this year came a dose of bad news: Hatosy failed to score high enough under the market's newly installed jury system, getting a 3.8 out of a possible 5. He received a form letter saying he'd fallen short after being judged on his product, display and customer service. His mobile "Charleston Cup" operation wouldn't be allowed space when the market reopens April 7.
"How could they give me a form letter for someone whose been there for more than five years?" he said last week about his rejection.
"To say that my coffee isn't good is like saying a Maserati isn't a good sports car. Why am I being picked on?"
Hatosy isn't alone. Several other vendors who relied on the market to make ends meet, or to supplement their take-home, have been told they'd failed to make the grade and couldn't come back.
Also cut loose was Jim Hardee of Coco's Donuts, an eight-year farmers market veteran. Hardee, of Orangeburg, said he sold more than 2,000 doughnuts on his Saturday set-ups to eager and repeat customers.
"Does that sound like my product is inferior?" he asked, saying that he was also told that, because he was from west of Interstate 95, he wasn't eligible to come back this year.
"We had a bunch of people come to the market just for our doughnuts," Hardee added.
After more than two decades in business, city officials say the annual spring market has become a victim of its own success, enacting limits on the number of sellers to keep the site from being overrun.
"The park can only take so much impact," said Ellen Dressler Moryl, director of the city's Office of Cultural Affairs, which produces and directs the market.
That doesn't mean Hatosy has to like it.
He contends he was judged unfairly by a group that had a narrow vision of what the market should be and didn't take into account that for many of the vendors, their business is their livelihood.
"I'm selling a product that's been well-received," Hatosy said. "Now all of sudden, they are saying they judged me 'out.' I don't know how that can possibly be."
Charleston's Farmers Market has been around in its current fashion for years. For about 40 Saturdays between spring and fall, it draws hundreds of visitors, tourists and locals to Marion Square to buy vegetables, danishes, sandwiches, jewelry, artwork and crafts. It operates under certain ground rules, with a key one being that any South Carolina farmer who operates east of Interstate 95 is practically assured space.
Beyond that, there's a limited number of sites for other businesses to come in.
Based on those limitations, market organizers this year adopted a jury system by which anyone wishing to set up on those 40 Saturdays a year would have to be rated, with only the top finishers being considered. Thirty-five spaces were set aside for food sellers, and 56 for crafts-makers.
The ratings categories touched on 10 target areas, including quality, general impressions, display, customer service and local fresh products. Each was judged on a 1-5 point system. Judges for both the food and crafts were selected by the market's advisory committee, which includes local grower Julian Smith, former city Councilwoman Yvonne Evans, and Karen Williams, the market manager.
The food evaluators included two representatives of St. Matthew's Church across the street from the market, a husband and wife team with travel and culinary experience, and another panelist who previously owned a restaurant. The arts and crafts evaluators included gallery directors and others with art backgrounds.
Competition was heavy. The number of new vendors accepted in 2011 totaled 37, the city said, while the number of new vendors accepted in 2012 was 31.
Some of those who were judged out, however, said they felt the panelists weren't rightfully qualified.
Regina Beahm, of Regina Daizei Designs, makes her own blown beaded and glass jewelry, some of which uses vintage seed beads rescued from the basement of an abandoned New York textile factory. She's received nationally published recognition for her work, but was taken aback when she was told she wasn't invited to return.
"I think it's a preference contest," she said. An artisan jury scoring has been used previously.
Hatosy was told last week he can file a grievance and appeal. But he didn't feel optimistic.
"I'm positive there's some underlying reason they don't want me there," he said.
Farmers' Market Jury
For the upcoming season of the Charleston Farmers Market that starts April 7, city officials are using two five-member panels to judge the applicants for spaces available on Saturdays in Marion Square.
Market applicants were rated on a point system, with only the top finishers being considered. The evaluating judges, called "jurors" by the city, for food- or beverage-based vendors were:
--Sarah Lang: Ordained pastor serving St. Matthews Lutheran Church, across the street from Marion Square where the market operates: Has visited farmers markets in Boone, N.C., Abingdon, Va., Asheville, N.C., and Atlanta.
--Joseph Bolick: Ordained pastor serving St. Matthews Lutheran Church. Has visited markets in Columbia and East Tennessee.
--Susan Wigley: Culinary academic director at the Art Institute of Charleston; previously associate professor of culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University.
--Jim Wigley: A general contractor. Husband of Susan Wigley. Frequent market attendee here and elsewhere traveling with his wife.
--David Vagasky: Faculty at Culinary Institute at Trident Technical College; prior owner of St. John's Island Café.
Jury for artisans
--Enid Idelsohn: Former owner of Homage on Broad Street (an antiques and home furnishings business); former gallery director at Busutil Art Gallery; former box office manager and merchandise manager at Spoleto Festival USA; former retail furniture buyer for more than 20 years in New York.
--Greg Jenkins: Operations director, Gibbes Museum; visual artist and former MOJA Arts Festival poster artist.
--Nina Liu: Owner, Nina Liu and Friends Art Gallery, artist.
--Yvonne Evans: Former City Council member; co-chairwomen, Charleston Farmers Market Advisory Committee
--Dorinda Harmon: Piccolo Spoleto Crafts Fair coordinator.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.