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The Times on the Essex Street Market: “Forgotten But Not Gone”

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Anne Saxelby, Feb. 2014.
Anne Saxelby, Feb. 2014.

It’s been a big week for the Essex Street Market. On Tuesday, the vendor association went before Community Board 3’s land use committee to ask for a change in management of the historic facility. The city’s Economic Development Corp. agreed to give the merchants more autonomy and resources — and to outsource marketing to the LES Business Improvement District. Today, the New York Times weighs in with its take on the market’s recent troubles (three stalls closed down this month due to slumping business).

The headline of Gina Bellafante’s “Big City” column reads, “Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side is forgotten but not gone.” Bellafante, who has featured the quirky market on at least two previous occasions, writes:

If you were prone to quick and superficial judgments, you might take one look at Anne Saxelby, a young and winsome purveyor of costly artisanal cheeses on the Lower East Side, and cast her in the role of bad witch in your own little gentrification play. For nearly a decade, Saxelby Cheesemongers has occupied a stall in the Essex Street Market, a municipal food hall built by Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia. And yet few have done more than Ms. Saxelby to work to preserve the market’s character and unite its disparate group of vendors, among them old-school Hispanic grocers dealing in unusual root vegetables and other inexpensive produce and retailers of the meticulously cured, the refined and the handcrafted.

The piece recounts the vendors’ frustrations in dealing with city officials who, in their view, have not done enough to publicize the fact that the market is still open. Many people believe the facility has already been shuttered in preparation for the big Essex Crossing development project. Bellafante also addresses the question of the WPA-era building’s well-known shortcomings:

It is a discordant note of life in New York that in this protracted historical period of culinary obsession, public markets — in the Bronx, in Bushwick in Brooklyn, and in East Harlem — have languished, even as they have thrived in other American cities and around the world for centuries. Part of the problem is architectural: The buildings are drab and institutional. At Essex Street, which is not particularly accessible and near a McDonald’s and a parking lot, there is no sense of theater. “In a public market, the experiential element — seeing something getting made or done — is important,” Rhonda Kave, who runs a chocolate shop at Essex Street, told me. For a while, she was making chocolates in her stall, but it became impossible because the temperature in the building was consistently about 80 degrees.

You can read the complete story here.

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  1. Tell you what, the bagel shop, which currently has one of the worst locations in the market, would do 10 times the business if they moved to the west side of the building and put in a take-out window facing the sidewalk on Essex St…

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