Who Says We Need a Public Market
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?