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Vision For New Essex Street Market Comes Into Sharper Focus

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When the first phase of Essex Crossing opens next year, nearly everything about the large development project will, of course, be brand new. One exception is the 77-year-old Essex Street Market, which is moving to an expanded space on the south side of Delancey Street. Whether the beloved public facility feels connected to its Lower East Side roots will help determine whether the larger residential and commercial development is embraced by the local community.

At a recent meeting of Community Board 3, city officials began to lay out a vision for the new market, which is expected to open at 115 Delancey St. in September of 2018. The presentation was led by David Hughes, vice president and executive director of markets for the city’s Economic Development Corp. (EDC)

As The Lo-Down first reported in April, the EDC, along with the Essex Street Market Vendor Association and the Lower East Side Partnership struck a deal for operating the new facility after years of negotiations. During the community board meeting, Hughes outlined what he called, “a kind of collaborative, hybridized management structure that I think really addresses the needs of this market.”

The city will continue to own and run the facility, while both the vendor association and the Partnership will take on expanded responsibilities for marketing, community relations and programming. The EDC is providing the LES Partnership with funding for a full-time manager to oversee market events and outreach in the neighborhood. The EDC is also extending an existing contract for a part-time staffer working directly with the vendors on special programs and social media. Hughes said the city will bring on an outside contractor to handle maintenance at the new market. The final piece of the puzzle is a community advisory committee, which will offer local feedback to the management team.

Essex Street Market, April 2017.
Essex Street Market, April 2017.

All 28 vendors will be making the move from the current building at 120 Essex St. “They have had their new stalls designed according to their specs,” said Hughes. Delancey Street Associates, the Essex Crossing development consortium, is paying to build the new facility and is covering the vendors’ moving costs. 

As previously reported, there will be two stand-alone restaurants in the Essex Street Market. The city is accepting proposals for those spaces. The EDC is also seeking to add 11 new small-format vendors, and an outside consultant, Robert LaValva, has been hired to help with recruitment. LaValva, the founder of the New Amsterdam Market, is a well-known figure in the New York City food world and a passionate advocate for the city’s public markets, past and present.

“There are things currently missing from Essex Street Market’s lineup,” said Hughes. “Wine, a good sandwich shop, perhaps, flowers, pickles. There are things that we have to actually go after and find and fill those vacancies.” Another goal, he explained, is to recruit local small businesses to join the market, as well as small start-ups. 

New Essex Street Market under construction.
New Essex Street Market under construction.

mezzanine level looking west

The new market covers 37,000 square feet, as opposed to 10,000 square feet in the current 1940s-era building. “There’s a lot more potential and opportunity for programming and events in this new space,” said Hughes. On the mezzanine, there will be a demonstration kitchen and flexible public gathering space. The mezzanine will be used for a wide range of programs, including cooking classes, workshops, talks, etc. Many events will be free, while other ticketed programs will help generate revenue for the market. The 6,000 square foot mezzanine will be available for rent by outside groups.

The city has hired WXY Studio, a design and planning firm, to help reposition the new Essex Street Market. As Hughes put it, “We have an opportunity now to rebrand, to think about who we are.” One developing idea is to use old photos and iconic signage from the historic market to draw a link between the past and present. While Hughes said the market is and always will be geared for the local community, he added, “We’re leveraging tourism connections. We’re thinking above and beyond the local community. We need to bring in other people. We want this market to be a draw. We want it to be like Reading Terminal Market (Philadelphia). You want it to be a destination.”

Rendering: Early idea for new Essex Street Market signage.
Rendering: Early idea for new Essex Street Market signage.

After several Essex Street Market businesses shuttered in 2015, vendors were sharply critical of EDC management, and called on the city to hand over daily operations to an outside not-for-profit organization. That didn’t happen, but the EDC did agree to delegate some responsibilities to the Partnership and the Vendor Association. The community board also stepped in, calling on the city to address to vendors’ concerns about the new facility. At last week’s meeting, Partnership President Tim Laughlin said the city clearly rose to the challenge.

“I think what the community board and the vendor association asked for happened,” he said. “Number one, get someone who’s experienced and gets markets in charge of the portfolio (David Hughes, former head of the Union Square Greenmarket was hired). Make sure the vendors are moving over to a new state-of-the-art facility with no problems. Make sure we have a long-term road map (for operating the market).”  Laughlin argued, “EDC has gone above and beyond what the community board requests were and what our requests were, and I think they deserve a lot of credit. We’re excited to open a facility that is truly going to be a one-of-a-kind community asset.”

In an interview, Vendor Association Chairperson Anne Saxelby also offered encouraging words for the new management arrangement. “I definitely feel positive about the new market,” said Saxelby. It has taken a long time to get here (after many months of negotiations),” she added, “but I think we’re finally in a good spot, and I think the vendors are excited about the move and about the new space.”

essex street market 4

Back in 2011, many local advocates, including Saxelby, fought a losing battle to save the original Essex Street Market building. That fight, however, was over long ago. Now the vendors and many locals are focused on making sure the new market retains its soul in a shiny new home. One drawback of the current historic building is that people walking by cannot see the businesses located inside. The new building, with its glass facade, will offer vendors good street-side visibility. Saxelby said most vendors, who have struggled in the years since the Essex Crossing project was announced, are looking forward to the boost that a new home will hopefully bring.

The new market will serve as a companion to another Essex Crossing amenity, a large subterranean shopping pavilion known as the Market Line. It will begin in the space below the Essex Street Market and extend over three development parcels to the east. There are some fears that the historic market’s unique identity will be subsumed by the Market Line. Both city officials and Essex Crossing developers tell us, however, they’re determined to keep that from happening.

A spokesperson for EDC said the city sees the Market Line as a, “great partner in our common purpose of providing quality food to the Lower East Side community.” But at the same time, “Essex Street Market will continue to be its own, distinct entity given that it is a mission-driven public market with a defined civic purpose. The goal of Essex Street Market will continue to be supporting small businesses and encouraging entrepreneurship, providing access to affordable, fresh food, and preserving the cultural tradition of public markets as strong community hubs with curated events and free programming in a safe and engaging public space. ”

Rohan Mehra of the Prusik Group, part of Delancey Street Associates, agreed. Referring to the Essex Street Market and the Market Line, he said, “they are distinct entities.” Explaining that the nearly 80-year-old Lower East Side market was, “our inspiration,” Mehra said the new small format retail center is intended to complement the Essex Street Market. “The idea,” he said, “is that between (the two markets), both located in one of the most diverse places in New York City, that shoppers can find anything imaginable, at all price points.” Mehra added that the focus of the Market Line, like the Essex Street Market, is on serving the local community. He acknowledged a need to attract shoppers from outside the neighborhood, but explained, “our feeling has always been that if the local community shops there, everyone else will go there, too. Tourists are looking for local flavor, history, character. If we are inclusive, the rest will follow.”

Construction of the new Essex Street Market is expected to be completed by June of next year. The vendors will make the move across Delancey Street in the fall. The developers and city officials have promised that the move will be seamless. The market will remain open until the debut of the new facility.

Anne Saxelby said she hopes local residents will continue to patronize the market in the months remaining before the move. “I’m really excited,” she told us.  “It’s a great opportunity to grow our businesses. I would just encourage people in the neighborhood to keep supporting the market and we’ll get through this transition together!” 

CB3:Essex Street Market Presentation by The Lo-Down on Scribd

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