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.
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?
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