By Associated Press - Sunday, August 23, 2015

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) - A building that housed a large northern Indiana farmers market that closed in 2010 could soon be home to a department store and restaurants.

The Elkhart County Board of Commissioners last week approved rezoning the property along Indiana 19 south of Elkhart for commercial use to allow the former American Countryside Farmers Market property to reopen for business.

“It’s what we’ve been waiting on,” Commissioner Mike Yoder said.

After Waste-Away Group, an Elkhart-based trash collection and recycling company, bought the distinctive red, barn-like structure at auction in 2011 for $3.6 million, it announced that it planned to use the building for office space and other purposes.

But John Levy, president of American Countryside Farmers Market LLC, told the commissioners the plans had changed. The company plans to acquire merchandise from online sites like Amazon at low cost and sell them in the second-floor department store. The first floor would house six locally run specialty restaurants, an Amish bakery and snack shops, as well as have a stage. The third floor will be used for storage.

Levy said the facility should employ about 70 people.

County Commissioner Frank Lucchese said he hoped the repurposed building will fare better than the farmers market, which closed about three years in business after struggling with low attendance and a weak economy that saw unemployment in Elkhart County spike to 18.9 percent in March 2009.

“The community was just upset it shut down so quickly,” he said. “The hours of operation were only three days a week. No one ever understood how it was going to work out that way.”

Lucchese said he already feels more confident about this venture, which Levy said will be open at least five days a week.

“People are excited to see something go back into that building,” he said. “We stand behind it and we hope they can make it work this time.”

Levy said the facility could be open as early as next month.

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