Who Says We Need a Public Market

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March 4, 2009 at 7:18 am

Rob Gardner

Yesterday, I tallied up the tally of merchants selling at the February 28 winter market in Oak Park, giving some idea of who would be there for a potential public market.  I left out one vital fact.  The woman who very much makes the market happen each week, Robin “Winter” Schirmer, disagrees with me. She’s all for winter markets, and wants them bigger and better, but she does not believe that there should be one permanent market a la the one’s cited here.  She wants me to keep my paws off of her vendors for any public market.

Before explaining Robin’s opposition, let me explain briefly, what I mean by a public market. I define a public market as having two attributes.  First, it has a permanent, fixed location, with some type of supporting structure.  I have no illusions that there would be a building as glorious as Cleveland’s West Side Market though.  But also, the building does not have to be enclosed or indoor or whatever that would be called.  It can be semi-open as Detroit’s or be a fixed set of stalls like some Euro markets.  Second, the market has to be open on a regular basis.  Not every day or any day but at least once a week.  It then follows, that such a market would convene year-round.  It would not be a winter market but a winter-summer-spring-fall market.  This, Robin does not want for Chicago.

Robin wonders, would not such a public market be limiting.  For instance, if the market went up in Lincoln Park, near where Green City exists, would not that make it difficult for others to get to the market.  In a metropolis as large, dispersed and sprawling as Chicago, Robin argues, would not much of the population always be far away from the market wherever it got built.   Instead of bringing local food to Chicagoans, would not a public market might wall off many Chicagoans from such food.  Robin’s solution has been to take her markets on the road, so that each week a new community can share in the surprising winter bounty.  She varies her locations between areas with proven demand and areas where she hopes there will be demand.  Not every community has rushed to the markets, but Robin believes they all should have a chance.

When Robin explained to me why my passion for public markets might not really make sense, I did not have much of a good response besides, “a public market would be really cool.”  Well, since the whole notion of public markets in Chicago is some what fanciful, I suggested that a market would be centrally located.  Accessible.  Ample public parking.  Near public transportation.  Besides, I argued, would not neighborhood markets still exist?  I did not imagine my public market replacing my weekly Oak Park market.  She remained unswayed.  Not the least, she says, would not the public market draw vendors away from the neighborhood markets.  If a farmer visited two or three markets now, around town, would they now just stick to one.  Would not a public market undermine the neighborhood markets?

Does she have a point.  Should we stop thinking of a public market before we even started thinking of a public market?

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2 Comments

  1. kennyz says:

    I think I agree with both of you. This may sound like pie-in-the-sky thinking, but I don’t think it is unreasonable to wish for several “permanent” markets. The largest would surely be near downtown, but we’d also have several in outlying areas. In my ideal world, the downtownish market would be open something like Wednesday through Saturday. Then on Sundays, places like Oak Park, Beverly, Northbrook, etc. would have their markets. Neighborhoods that felt left out could try to coordinate a Tuesday evening market.

  2. robininwinter says:

    What Rob fails to mention is that the first time he mentioned the prospect of a year-round, fixed, public market, I asked him, “Where should it be?” “Why, Oak Park, of course!” At least that’s how I remember the conversation. And therein lies the problem. Anyone who wants it, wants it near them. To be fair, I’ve since heard other ideas for locations from Rob.

    I’m not opposed to “my” winter market vendors finding other outlets–in fact, the winter markets I coordinate have the best interests of the farmers at their core–but I guess I’m afraid that if a public market is a 7-day proposition, as many are, the growers and producers won’t be able to be there (they’ve got chores to do) and the market would devolve into a meat-and-cheese-and-crafts emporium to fill the space.

    In general, I’m more interested in wide accessibility of good, local foods year-round; in fact, I assume that we’ll start seeing many of the area markets extending their seasons and going year-round . . . and my work will be done!

    Thanks to Rob and Michael for attending and writing about the Winter Farmers Markets. Rob has been a regular, and drags his family all over town to get there. (I don’t see many complaints when they’re sitting down to a full local brunch or nibbling on one of Angie Ackerman’s Vietnamese spring rolls.) He’s been to markets with 3 or 4 vendors last year, and has seen them grow to 15-20 vendors at some locations this year.

    If you haven’t yet made it, there’s still time….9 more to go through the end of March. For a complete schedule, go to http://www.localharvest.org/farmers-markets/M19510.

    [Rob's been after me to contribute to The Local Beet. Note to Rob: be careful what you wish for!]

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