Editorial: Public Market closure leaves void in downtown community

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Following last week's announcement that the Urban Grocery and Wine Bar in the Phoenix Public Market would be closing its doors, the community is left searching for answers to important questions of why, how, and what now? (Madeline Pado/DD)

What happens when a neighborhood institution disappears?

This past Friday, a variety of sources revealed the indoor, daily portion of the Phoenix Public Market would be closing its doors in just a week’s time.

The immediate, visceral reaction from the community was unsurprisingly one of shock and dismay, wondering aloud at how such a cornerstone could simply cease to exist.

From the perspective of economics, many asked how a neighborhood’s only grocery store could close after just over two years in operation.

Downtown is a food desert once again.

The weekly Open Air Market began in February 2005, becoming the first source for food in the downtown area in years. It was founded with the intention of later establishing a permanent location in the area, allowing essential access to food for a burgeoning downtown community.

After years of fundraising and renovations, the Urban Grocery and Wine Bar opened its doors in 2009 to an eager populace, offering lunch service and wines, and sharing space with the popular Royal at the Market coffee shop.

The location quickly became a hub for connectivity in downtown Phoenix, a staging area for many of the big ideas arriving in the city.

But did downtown ever have what it took to sustain a store like the Phoenix Public Market?

Undoubtedly, the downtown area features a lower population density than nearly any other city of its size in the country. Parking and vacant lots certainly don’t help its case. Across the street from the Market is an entire square block of parking spaces, right along Central Avenue, one of the most vital hubs of traffic in the entire city.

Blocking the Market’s view from the south is a small Valley Metro transit building, situated directly across from the Urban Grocery.

This past year, during what is usually the busiest season for the Market, the city of Phoenix was completing major street construction, shutting down the entire main entrance to the shop and diverting most pedestrian and vehicular traffic to peripheral entries. While the construction was supposed to be completed in November, it dragged through to January, leading to an estimated $40,000 in lost revenue for the store.

Still in progress is a public art installation funded by the National Endowment for the Arts that will now welcome visitors to an empty storefront.

How can a business be expected to survive when it is surrounded by dead space, empty lots and construction?

Where is the community?

If I had a nickel for every time a Downtown campus ASU student asked where they could buy groceries…

Countless students to this day have no idea where to buy produce near campus, and the very same students complain every time they have to buy anything from the woefully-understocked and overpriced Taylor Place Market.

The campus built to be “embedded” in the community did not establish any type of connection between its students and a grocery store that is only a few blocks away from its residence hall.

And for all of the lunchtime patrons of the store, did many truly linger and purchase groceries? This was the question asked repeatedly over the weekend by the local onlookers anxious to determine a cause for the Public Market’s sudden demise

What are we losing?

For an area so dedicated to local business and entrepreneurship, to lose a locally-owned market is to lose a cornerstone of the community.

When no one in their right mind thought to sell food in the downtown area, the Public Market set down its roots — before ASU, before Civic Space, before CityScape and before 44 Monroe.

The organizers behind the Market gave developers incentive to place their newest projects in the downtown core, because now their residents and employees would have a place to shop.

Now, the nearest daily grocery in Phoenix is 1.5 miles away from the Downtown campus, which is located near the northern edge of the downtown core.

Considering the more than 400 signatures collected this past Saturday alone, and nearly 600 Facebook “Likes” attracted by community members looking to save the venerable shop, few are willing to take this lightly.

But after a few days of vigorous activity and discussion, the founders of the “Save Downtown Phoenix Public Market” page announced their own resignation. The closure was final.

What now?

With the closure of the Phoenix Public Market, the supposed urban core of Phoenix sees yet another empty storefront arise.

The Public Market served not only its customers, but its employees. It employed the area’s artists, musicians, community organizers, promoters, and just general resources.

Though the outdoor market, Food Truck Fridays and Royal at the Market will remain, the main space of the property will become desolate.

A definite void is arising, leaving local residents, students and businesspeople grasping for someone new to offer essential goods to a community in transition.

The Market’s closure leaves a lot of opportunity, but who will take it?

Contact the writer at connor.descheemaker@asu.edu

Comments

  1. Robin Byram says:

    Connor,

    Excellent article. I started coming downtown about a month ago and drive to the Roosevelt Row area for business/arts 3 or more times a week.
    I would support a grocery store in the future.

    Robin Byram

  2. Anonymous Phoenician says:

    FACT is that this store was overpriced and the staff was incompetent.

    The problem with many of the stores in the downtown phoenix area is they don’t understand service, they’re typically political radicals or some other kind of marginalized group which alienates customers. There’s really no other city I’ve ever been to where the operators of business are so offensive, snobby, rude, or just careless and idiotic.

    What exactly was the model for the Public Market? Sell overpriced crap to indulgent hipster children of the wealthy?

    I think the general problem with the Downtown Phoenix culture is that they think they can just import Californian or New York attitudes without modification. Unfortunately this doesn’t work here.

  3. Unfortunate says:

    Anytime a small business closes its doors it is an unfortunate situation. This country was founded on small business enterprises seeking to provide a service to their neighbors. But the reality is that not every business model is a success. Sometimes specialty stores don’t generate the following they require to be solvent. If the 600 people that rallied on facebook had done their shopping at the Public Market religously we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion at all.

    As for the construction, I spend a lot of time downtown and this is one of the nicest areas in the Phoenix Metro area. To even begin to claim that the work completed didn’t improve the chances of success for all businesses in that area is completely misguided. Citizens, and visitors for that matter, want to feel a sense of community and the improvements absolutely provided that. Now if only someone would do something with the nasty parking lot south of the old market buiding…

    It is absolutely unfortunate but not surprsing that the Public Market closed. Anyone who visited and could see it through unbiased eyes would recognize that.

  4. Anonymous Phoenician says:

    seems to me that most of what was going on down there was a flight of fantasy… perhaps the wife of some rich lawyer who wanted to realize her dream of organic vegetables and young bearded hipster ‘artists’. Well these kind of dreams don’t make a good business.

    Perhaps if someone opened up a REAL grocery store that focused on prices and products rather than annoying staff and products from their friends at the yoga studio, it might actually do well.

  5. Elizabeth F. says:

    I am not affiliated with the Phoenix Public Market in anyway except as an occasional customer and therein lies the problem. FACT: the reason that the market failed is because I, and the rest of the community, didn’t do enough to support it. FACT: from day one, the market didn’t have sufficient funding. This was obvious from the slow progress it made in becoming fully operational. FACT: I will miss the market. Today I showed up and read the sign that said they were closing. At first, I was shocked but I probably shouldn’t have been. I ordered a pound of cheese curd salad with basil and cherry tomatoes – so fresh and delicious. Where will I find that again in a market downtown? I don’t want another slaveway. Bottom line, in the future if I really like some place, I need to do my part by shopping there – and so do you. As for the vitriolic criticism of “Anonymous Phoenician” he/she doesn’t even have the courage to give their name. I can only assume that he/she is as unpleasant in person as they are in writing.

  6. Shannon says:

    Thanks for writing this piece, Connor.

  7. Anonymous Phoenician says:

    Elizabeth: how much did you pay for your Cheese Curd? probably far too much than the average college student or Phoenix resident is willing to pay. Seriously, please post the bill here for everyone’s reference.

    It seems everyone downtown is always talking about this ‘community’, but all I ever see is overgrown rich kids and idiotic hipsters. It’s like youre trying to sell me a sandwich (a fully integrated downtown) without the meat (the commerce). I really want to see REAL involvement down there, not yet another simulated ‘community’ effort from the same small little clique of yuppies. Some of the political values are absurd. NO SB1070? have you actually LOOKED at the police blotter? or perhaps the countless reports of insane violence emanating from the border? There’s some serious gang activity only a few blocks away from the Downtown Region.

    Mind you there are good stores cropping up, PPM was not one of them.

  8. Retha says:

    Anonymous Phoenician is not only out of line but uninformed. The Market actually provided local farmers with an opportunity to sell their products. It supported a diverse set up farmers. Was it more expensive than Safeway? Yes. Was the service a bit slow? Yes. Those are growing pains. Too bad the Market did not have a chance to mature to provide the right mix of locally-grown and affordable produce similar to a Sprout. When areas are trying to build themselves up, there is always the chicken and the egg: you need the density to support the businesses and you need the businesses to bring more people in. I’ve seen this push-pull in areas of DC, Baltimore and Charlotte. Then all of a sudden, its like bam: where did all these people and businesses come from? In fact, it did not happen by magic after all. It took the work of a few brave souls willing to step out there on faith to open up that first bistro or boutique or market. Some make it; most fail. But at least they tried rather than just snipe from the sidelines.

  9. Gene Urban says:

    This is sad news, yet there is a lesson. Most food consumers want a blend of traditional memory foods and healthy stuff. Look at the success of TJ’s. They blend affordable offerings in both organic and non organic items.

    Just because we have a University doesn’t mean a high percentage of the students and staff want or can afford higher cost groceries. Affordability is a huge factor, especially during a national economic depression.

    I hope the next downtown grocer learns from both Oakville and the Piclic Market. Perhaps they will look at models in other urban centers and build a business that attract a broader demographic while keeping an urban feel.

  10. ‘Anonymous Phoenician’ is just an AZ Republic-style commenter, spreading hate & stupid wherever s/he goes. If s/he decides to forego downtown in the future, then I think downtown will be better off for it.

  11. Anonymous Phoenician says:

    thanks for your input, PhxDowntowner.

    Q: why do these businesses always seem to require ‘support’? is this a business or a charity effort?

    perhaps answering this question might clue you in to why all your business ventures are failures and why I shop at Sprouts.