Here’s How the City Plans to Handle Upcoming Essex Street Market Move

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Last week we posted a report from the Essex Street Market Vendor Association that showed a surprising lack of knowledge about the looming move of the market to an expanded facility on the south side of Delancey Street. Representatives from the Vendor Association and the Lower East Side Partnership appeared at a Community Board 3 meeting the next day to discuss what’s being done to inform shoppers about the big move.

The 78-year-old Essex Street Market will become part of the big Essex Crossing project in October, leaving behind its WPA-era building at 120 Essex St. The new facility at 115 Delancey St. is three times larger (36,000 square feet) and will feature a demonstration kitchen and public events space.

The report from the Vendor Association, completed in February, included on site surveys of shoppers, as well as online surveys, and feedback from local visioning sessions. Among the conclusions: Many shoppers did not know the market would be moving, and a lot of them feared that prices would go up in the glossy new building. Some weren’t even sure the current vendors would be part of the new market.

The findings were presented to CB3’s economic development committee by Lauren Margolis, the market’s community programs and engagement manager, and Amy Vu, a Neighborhood 360° fellow who has been working with the Lower East Side Partnership during the past year. Representatives from the city’s Economic Development Corp. (EDC), which runs the market, were also on hand to answer questions.

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After the surveys were conducted, they noted, the city added conspicuous signage outside the market to announce the upcoming move. “Since then,” said Margolis, “there has been a huge uptick in the percentage of people that we speak to who know about the market move.”

The vendor Association has also printed postcards announcing the move that carry the slogan, “same vendors, same prices.” A splashy marketing campaign is in-the-works for the fall to promote the new Essex Street Market. The EDC, LES Partnership and Vendor Association are working on programming in the new facility (cooking demos, classes, workshops) to connect with the local community. They’ll also be emphasizing face-to-face contact with local residents, reaching out to them through settlement houses and other social service organizations in the area.

“We believe public programs are going to be a really important part of maintaining our current shopper base,” Margolis explained, “but also making Lower East Side residents in general aware that this is a market for them, serving them.”

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Years ago, the community board cut a deal with the city to keep rents for existing vendors the same in the new building. Both vendors and city officials confirm that this commitment has been honored. [Some vendors are taking larger spaces and, therefore, will be paying more rent, but the price per square foot has not changed.] Delancey Street Associates, the Essex Crossing developers, are paying to build the new facility. The vendors will not be responsible for their moving costs.

In recent years, the Essex Street Market has catered to both low-income residents of the Lower East Side, as well as to more affluent shoppers. But a market survey conducted a few years ago found that more than half of the shoppers at the market rely on government assistance to buy their food. Tim Laughlin, president of the LES Partnership, said in an interview, “There has been considerable investment by the city to make sure the market is accessible to people of moderate incomes.”

Some shoppers will, no doubt, miss the quirky, scruffy market building, which was part of a complex built in 1940 to get merchants off the streets of the Lower East Side. Local residents lost a battle to save the buildings (two have already been demolished, and the others will be knocked down, as well). Laughlin conceded this fact, saying, “We are aware that there are concerns that the community is going to feel the loss of the market. We’re doing everything we can to relieve that concern.”

Rendering: New Essex Street Market.

Rendering: New Essex Street Market.

Even though rents aren’t going up, Laughlin acknowledged that vendors are free to set their own prices. But he added, “There isn’t necessarily an incentive to change their price structure. I don’t anticipate that many will do that based on the significant numbers of customers they already have that are accustomed to those price points. In addition, there is natural competition within a small group of vendors (which has historically helped keep prices low).”

As of now, 23 existing vendors will be making the move. They’ll be joined by 12 new vendors, some of which have already been announced. The merchants have helped design their new spaces, and they have gone on hard hat tours of the facility, which is still under construction.

The last few years have been stressful ones for the vendors. The market experienced a drop in foot traffic when the Essex Crossing project was announced (many people mistakenly believe the current market is already closed). Several merchants closed in 2015. The latest closure happened just a couple of months ago when I.M. Pastry Studio shuttered after less than a year in the market. [In this particular case, we’re told, a medical issue forced the business to scale back; a lack of business was not a factor).

City officials say they’re confident the market is on track for a resurgence in a state-of-the-art new facility.

“As we get closer to the completion and opening of the new Essex Market space, we are very excited with the level of engagement we have received from both legacy vendors as well as new vendors who will join the market in its new space,” an EDC spokesperson told The Lo-Down. “We look forward to continuing to provide a community-focused and mission-driven public market to the residents of the Lower East Side.”

A relocation specialist has been hired to help with the move. The city is working to minimize the gap between the closure of the old facility and the opening of the new market. It will likely be a “few days,” they say.

Meanwhile, the EDC is planning a short-term art exhibition in the old Essex Street Market building. Serin Choi, part of the team working on the new market told CB3, “It’s not 100% confirmed, but  we’re working with a very well known art (organization) to take over the old market once it’s vacated, so that when people go to the old market there will be something active for them to look at.”  In a later conversation, EDC reps indicated that exhibition would be focused on the history of the public market.

We’re told demolition will likely occur at the old market in mid-2019.