Essex Street Market on the Upswing; Saxelby Still Concerned About Future Management

essex street market

The Essex Street Market has a new look, thanks in part to a colorful mural recently created on the outside of the 1940-era building by artist Gera Lozano. But there’s also a lot happening inside the historic market, which has struggled in recent years to attract enough regular customers. In the past month, Anne Saxelby, head of the vendor association, updated members of Community Board 3 on efforts to revive the facility. We have details on that today, as well as a status report from the city’s Economic Development Corp. (EDC), which operates the market.

In the past couple of years, Saxelby has been a vocal critic of the city’s management of the facility. She raised concerns about lackluster marketing efforts, but also the lack of a clear management plan to operate the new, expanded Essex Street Market that will anchor the Essex Crossing development project.

But in her appearance before the community board, Saxelby said, “We’re happy to say that EDC did respond” to the concerns, outsourcing marketing to the Lower East Side Partnership, hiring a vendor coordinator and facilitating several high profile public events. “We have better attendance, better communication with all the vendors, more vendor buy-in and better participation in all of our events,” said Saxelby. She added, “In the last 90 days, we have accomplished more than I saw accomplished at the market in terms of marketing in promotion in the last 10 years.”

While explaining that “the EDC has been very responsive and cooperative,” Saxelby said she remains concerned about the future.  In the past, the vendor association has called on the city to hire a locally-based not-for-profit organization to take over management of the new market, which is scheduled to open in about two years. “We did and do want to see a road map towards alternative management,” she said. “We requested that of EDC and they still have not been able to commit to any kind of alternative management plan.”

Following the meeting, we contacted officials with the Economic Development Corp. Last fall, they indicated that a consultant, Ted Spitzer of Market Ventures, had been hired to make recommendations about the best management structure for the new market, but that no decisions had been made by the city. Anthony Hogrebe, senior vice president for public affairs, told us in the past week:

…we are currently working to finalize a detailed plan for the new market that takes into consideration the operational changes of the new facility. (The Essex Street Market) is an important City asset and we want to be thoughtful about our plans for the space, and to ensure that we have full input from the vendors and other key stakeholders before making final decisions. We expect to be able to share more specifics in the coming months.

EDC officials, along with Spitzer and members of the Essex Crossing development team, have met repeatedly with existing vendors about their spaces in the new facility. Saxelby said merchants are generally upbeat with that process. The new market will be about twice the size of the current facility, meaning there will be many new vendors. We asked whether the city had started the recruitment process.

Hobrebe explained, “We have so far been primarily focused on thoroughly engaging current vendors to plan for their new stalls and the move to the new facility.” But he added that a recruitment plan is being developed and that — with the help of Market Ventures — the city has “done a lot of groundwork to identify key elements to a successful market, including the right vendor mix.”

Finally, Hobrebe said city officials are encouraged by recent developments at the market, including the addition of new vendors such as Osaka Grub. It’s “definitely a good sign, he said, “that people are excited and investing in the future of our market.”

In her community board appearance, Saxelby pointed out that the EDC has been recruiting for a new position, a vice president and executive director of markets. According to the job listing, the new executive will be “responsible for policy development, growth strategies, and operational oversight of the City’s public retail markets including Essex Street Market, Arthur Avenue Market, Moore Street Market and La Marqueta.”  Saxelby said there’s concern about the city lumping the Essex Street Market in with other properties EDC manages. “While we understand that this is a portfolio that’s difficult for them, economically and otherwise, for them to manage, we just want to continue pushing them to be forward-looking,” she said.