Longtime Lower East Side residents are nervous about the looming move of the Essex Street Market into a glassy new space across Delancey Street. That was one of the main takeaways from a survey conducted by the Essex Street Market Vendor Association. It’s part of a report will be presented tomorrow (Wednesday) at a meeting of Community Board 3’s economic development committee (it was recently posted on CB3’s website).
A surprising number of locals surveyed did not know that the 78-year-old market is about to undergo its biggest transition since opening in 1940. When the move happens later this year, the market will become part of the big Essex Crossing development project.
The report, Building Community at the Essex Street Market, was designed to solicit feedback about the uses of a demonstration kitchen and public events space that will be part of the new market. After conducting customer surveys, focus groups and a visioning workshop, the vendor association summed up, “…the community’s mains concerns as they relate to the Market’s move, which include affordability, current vendor vitality and changes to neighborhood character.”
Back in 2011, some of the vendors and members of the local community fought a losing battle to save the historic market building at 120 Essex St. The city’s Economic Development Corp., which operates the Essex Street Market, argued that the facility was badly out-of-date and too small to be viable long-term. The community board successfully pushed for measures to protect the existing vendors. Their rents, for example, were to stay the same in the new building. Still, today there are well-founded worries that the gussied up market in a glossy new tower at 115 Delancey St. will lose its authenticity, old world feel and commitment to serving the local community.
In the recently completed report, the vendor association stated, “The quality of vendor-shopper relationships at Essex Street Market makes it a unique community space and more than just a shopping destination. Programs and events that support the interests of both vendors and neighborhood residents are essential to maintaining and cultivating a sense of community (in the new space).”
Only about half of those surveyed while shopping in the market were aware of the upcoming move (more people responding to questions online knew about it). Only 13% of the in-store respondents knew that all of the existing vendors will be in the new facility. People expressed concerns that vendors could be paying more rent, and that as a result, food prices would increase.
One shopper said, “I love Essex Street Market because the prices are low, and I’m afraid that this move will cause significant price increases.” Longtime residents were particularly worried, while newer residents tended to express optimism about the changes. Other shoppers explained, “The Essex Street Market is the only place that keeps culture alive for Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Spanish, and Mexicans,” and “there is no where else in this neighborhood that sells my culture’s food. I [would] have to go to El Barrio or Brooklyn.”
The merchant association said it, “plans to survey vendors to better understand how they foresee pricing structure to change – or stay the same – in the new Market. This feedback, alongside information regarding vendors’ new permit conditions, will help determine what role (the vendor association) can play in ensuring that the Market’s price points remain affordable.”
The report includes several recommendations. It suggests building on existing relationships with local settlement houses and other organizations to make sure the community knows the market is a, “destination for free and reduced-price public programming.” The survey showed a strong desire for more food education and intergenerational programming, plus kids cooking classes. The report calls for an outreach and marketing strategy to reach both new and longtime residents:
Outreach should focus on targeted messaging in both print and digital, with the former concentrating on how the Market will maintain its current makeup and the latter speaking to exciting developments around new vendors and event opportunities.
The new market will be 37,000 square feet, about triple the size of the current facility. There will be 12 new vendors, as well as two stand-alone restaurants. The city will continue to run the Essex Street Market, in partnership with the vendor association and the Lower East Side Partnership. Essex Crossing will also include a subterranean shopping pavilion called the Market Line. Both the Essex Market and the first portion of the Market Line are supposed to open this coming fall.
As mentioned, the report will be presented to CB3 tomorrow evening. The meeting takes place at 200 East 5th St., and begins at 6:30 p.m.
UPDATE: We have a followup to this story here, including details about the city’s efforts to get the word out about the upcoming move of the Essex Street Market.