You’ve seen them. You may have visited one. And if you did you most likely enjoyed the time you spent there. I’m talking about public markets. Think Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax in Los Angeles, Pike Place Market in Seattle, or Ferry Plaza Market in San Francisco. They were all founded in another era with the purpose of bringing the farmer and the consumer together. But these public markets, and many more around the world, have evolved into social hubs, tourist destinations, and business incubators. But what exactly is a public market and how would one work in Long Beach? I’m glad you asked.
With a few exceptions, public markets have two defining traits: they are located within a permanent structure and they are open anywhere from four to seven days a week. Similar to a typical farmers market, a public market will provide designated spaces to farmers and/or vendors to sell produce, meat products, dairy products, and other food items. A public market will also provide spaces to non-food vendors to sell anything from t-shirts to pottery. What makes a public market distinct from a farmers market is their ability to lease indoor sales space to merchants that require, or just prefer, a fixed location. Often these merchants sell perishable foods that require on-site refrigeration or they offer food that is prepared onsite.
That’s the what. Here’s the why, but first a question. Where in Long Beach do you go if you want to grab a bite to eat or take an afternoon stroll? Second Street or Shoreline Village usually come to mind. Pine Avenue or the Pike in downtown Long Beach usually do not. Despite years of public and private investment, Pine Avenue and the Pike lack a diversity of businesses and social activity that entice people to visit. A public market at either of those places could attract new life to downtown Long Beach and encourage customers to spend more money and time, not just at the market, but in nearby shops and businesses. In a Project for Public Spaces (PPS) (www.pps.org) survey of customers from a variety of indoor and open-air markets around the country, 60% of shoppers also visited nearby stores on the same day and of those respondents 60% said that they visited those stores only on days they visited the market. Another PPS study in 2002 showed public markets can offer a relatively inexpensive opportunity for entrepreneurs (especially minorities, immigrants, and women) to start their own businesses. Of the vendors surveyed, 83% used personal savings to start their business and 54% spent $1,000 or less to start their business. Public markets have the potential to act as an anchor for existing businesses, encourage new investment, and provide new opportunities for local entrepreneurs.
Assuming you’re now on board with bringing a public market to The Pike or Pine Avenue I’ll skip the how and suggest a couple of specific locations. The first is the space formerly occupied by Borders Books and Music at the Pike. Being in close proximity to the convention center and with convenient parking located in nearby parking structures, a public market at this location could bring needed vitality to the desolate Pike. The second possible location is an underutilized parking lot on the west side of the 300 block of Pine Avenue. This location has the advantage of being two blocks from the Long Beach Transit Mall and within a 10-minute walk of thousands of downtown residents. Regardless of the location, the key is to create a place that fosters entrepreneurship and new economic activity while attracting a diverse group of consumers.
If you’re not yet sold on public markets and their benefits here’s one more argument. Public markets throughout the world not only provide local residents with goods and services, they are also tourists destinations. People are drawn to people. While the diversity of foods and products at a public market may be the primary draw for local residents, tourists tend to be drawn to the activity that comes from the convergence of people and commerce. From Cusco to Melbourne, public markets are places tourists go to sample local cuisine or buy locally made arts and crafts. A public market that is uniquely Long Beach could become a new tourist destination showcasing our diverse community.
Lets bring new energy and economic activity to downtown Long Beach and create a public market that is unique to this diverse and wonderful city.
If you want to see what’s happening in other cities here’s a list of public markets currently operating in the United States:
- Chattanooga Market, Chattanooga, Tennessee
- Chicago French Market, Chicago, Illinois
- Dallas Farmers Market, Dallas, Texas
- Downtown Phoenix Public Market, Phoenix, Arizona
- Eastern Market, Washington, D.C.
- Ferry Building Marketplace, San Francisco, California
- Findlay Market, Cincinnati, Ohio
- French Market, New Orleans, Louisiana
- Grand Central Market, Los Angeles, California
- Grand Central Market, New York, New York
- Haymarket Square, Boston, Massachusetts
- Hollins Market, Baltimore, Maryland
- Lexington Market, Baltimore, Maryland
- Los Angeles Farmers Market, Los Angeles, California
- Midtown Global Market, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Milwaukee Public Market, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- North Market, Columbus, Ohio
- Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington
- Portland Public Market, Portland, Oregon
- Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Rochester (New York) Public Market, Rochester, New York
- PNC Second Street Market, Dayton, Ohio
- Soulard Market, St. Louis, Missouri
- Sweet Auburn Curb Market, Atlanta, Georgia
- Union Square Greenmarket, New York, New York
- West Side Market, Cleveland, Ohio
Here are some pictures I’ve taken from public markets around the world.