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A Tale of 2 Cities and Their Markets: Part 1

By RBRevival:
Detroit and Buffalo will always be tied at the hip when it comes to Rustbelt bashing.  The two cities have many similarities: manufacturing loss, thousands of abandoned homes and lots, poverty, and crime.  We all know this already, and that is not what this piece is about, quite the opposite actually.  In analyzing all of same factors that cause both cities to falter, I think it’s important to also focus on possible solutions to get them back on their feet.
As a recent piece BR piece outlines, Detroit is a really cool place to visit.  I had a chance to discover this firsthand when I “road tripped” there in June.  One thing that struck me about Detroit were the two markets that I got to check out during my visit.  The two were very different in nature, but both offered insight as to how we can better use two markets here in Buffalo; The Broadway Market, and the Clinton-Bailey Farmers Market.  Part 1 will focus on the Broadway Market, one of the country’s oldest public markets.
The Broadway Markets challenges have been very well documented on this site, in the local news and the paper in Buffalo.  While everyone seems to love the idea of the market, it seems as though no one is really sure how to ensure its sustainability.  Under the current model it’s basically a seasonal operation, with the weeks leading up to Easter drawing thousands of people from around WNY to make the annual trip down to the Eastside and reminisce.  If you are one of the hearty souls who have visited the market after Easter, you see a very different scene.  The majority of the market is empty; it’s a large shell for a few year ’round vendors.


While in Michigan I had the opportunity to visit The Rustbelt Market. Located in Ferndale, MI a few miles outside of Detroit, I found a model that challenged what the Broadway Market can be.  Previously I had envisioned the traffic at the Broadway Market could be increased with events, bringing in radio stations, bands, and school groups for example.  While at the Rustbelt Market I realized the market itself should be the draw.  The flexible nature of the model used at the Rustbelt Market could be a viable option for implementation at the Broadway Market.
The Rustbelt Market labels itself on its website as “a true living market. Essentially, we have dusted off a 7,000 year old business model and put some spit and polish on it.”   They are providing an affordable brick and mortar outlet for small or fledgling retailers and artists to sell their products.   Think Allentown Art Festival as an indoor venue, we all know the crowds that the Art Fest brings every summer.  The goods that I browsed ranged from photographs of Detroit and vintage apparel, to wine flavored lip balm and even a local brewery.


Many of the vendors that I spoke with at the Rustbelt Market had an online presence in addition to their stand.  They appreciated the vehicle to have a physical space without the commitment of a lease or the cost of building out a space.  Some of the vendors have other jobs, but a few owners that I spoke with, such as “Jerry Shirts”, were living off a website and sales from the market.
The goods at the Rustbelt Market often had a Michigan connection.  These vendors are screened and are not just reselling packaged goods that are available anywhere.  I find this aspect as important a concept as the market itself, the multiplying effects of keeping your dollar in the local economy has been well documented.
Each vendor is responsible for collecting payment from customers independently and most were embracing the various smart phone credit card processing setups, or accepting cash.  You could tell from speaking with them that the screening process had worked.  Everyone was running a viable business with unique ideas, this was not a spiced up garage sale.
So why do this? And how does this strategy work at Buffalo Broadway market?  


For starters, it would work without the current vendors needing to disrupt their businesses.  The Rustbelt Market is 15,000 sqft, while the Broadway Market is a hulking 90,000 sqft.  New vendors can be added to the front of the market, which is usually pretty barren.  Even if it was twice as successful as the Rustbelt Market there would still be ample space for the existing butchers, diner, and retailers.  I am not proposing that the Broadway Market completely abandoned their meat and produce roots.  I think that revising the model could augment the business to keep that tradition alive instead of quietly continuing to fade.
The space is already there!  The City of Buffalo is maintaining the Broadway Market regardless of whether it is full or largely vacant.  Aside from some additional administrative work on the part of the market staff to review vendors and create and manage price structure, the rest of the overhead is already accounted for.  The market needs to start looking at the vacant space in the market as an opportunity cost.  For example, the lights are always on throughout the whole space.  Why not let vendors set up a temporary space for $60 even if it’s just on the weekend?  Every day paying to light an empty space is an opportunity cost never to be recouped. Like an empty seat on a flight, once that plane takes off you can never realize revenue for that seat.
We have seen a market for this.  As I stated before, we all marvel at the crowds at the local festivals.  The Saturday Artisan Market at the Wharf has drawn visitors to Canalside.  This is not to compete with those entities, it’s to compliment them.  The festivals are just that, a few one offs a year.  Since the Wharf is a temporary setup, it gives vendors little opportunity to establish much outside of a tent and folding table.  Some of the well-established vendor
s at the Rustbelt Market have put a lot of time and effort into their spaces to make it their own.   I also don’t think the Wharf would be a hospitable site for those vendors a large portion of the year, while the Broadway Market offers a location viable throughout all seasons.  
It would be a huge omission for me to not address the neighborhood while writing about the Broadway Market.  Broadway-Fillmore is a distressed area that many people try to speed through or avoid all together.  There have been those that suggest moving the Market downtown a good solution.  This technique of avoidance hasn’t seemed to help us thus far as a city or a region.  At this point it would be difficult to save every dilapidated house dotting this neighborhood, taking into account its current state.  However, I think we have a responsibility to identify anchors that will be catalysts for neighborhoods in the future that many believe don’t have one.  The Broadway Market is one of those anchors and deserves to be fought for.  
While the neighborhood around the market struggles for now, I think the oft-maligned parking it has is a strength.  Most visitors to the Market, should this strategy be adopted, would not be walking.  The parking lot is secure and onsite.  While trying to establish a viable entity in one of the most distressed areas in the region the onsite parking makes safety and the perception of safety manageable.
I know that the will to keep the Broadway Market is alive and well.  You can feel it each Easter, or in the sadness that creeps in when a conversation shifts to its former glory.  The question is can we capture that will and forge a new direction for the old market in a changing, global, and ‘online’ world.

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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  • ColorMeBuff

    I’ve been to that market before! The Rustbelt Market does a great job of bringing in local artists and vendors who are bringing something that can’t be found anywhere else in Detroit. You are right, it has a very “Allentown Art Fest” feel to it. This is definitely an area where the Broadway Market could easy take a lesson. They would also be smart to approach existing small businesses in Buffalo to see if they might set up stands at the market to draw in new business.

  • Travelrrr

    Right on. Great idea to turn part of the Bdwy market into an artisan market.

  • Rand503

    You want a good example of why historic preservation is important? Take a look at the old Broadway Market. It was a beautiful victorian structure. I don’t know why they tore it down in the mid-20th century, but even if there was a fire, it could have been rehabbed.
    Today, it is worse than a mausoleum. I couldn’t plan a more depressing shopping experience if I tried.
    Now, I realize it’s too expensive to blow the whole thing up and start all over, but something needs to be done to make it a tad more inviting. If we had the original building, it would be a vibrant place that attracts business, and it would be something we could be proud of. This concrete bunker that exists now is just deplorable.

  • Buffalo All Star

    How is Ferndale as a suburb? Great format..that would need to be larger and then some for the decreipt surrounding neighborhood here in Buffalo. A refurb of the Broadway Market would not be able to stop within its walls..the surroundings are holding it back just as much as the markets lack of vision, structure, and leadership.
    The Broadway market needs some mass appeal..groceries and Polish knick nacks aren’t cutting it. Could you imagine the place with a little rebranding..and a larger variety of vendors..and a new customer focus that doesn’t involve the ever shrinking suburban living population of Polish and German residents that we have left? (I.E. Old folks) The Rust Belt market seems to be modern day..the Broadway is not.
    Well done Ferndale..they seem to have taken an old Rite Aide and done something we can’t do with one of the oldest markets in the country thats six times the size.

  • JDM

    The Market has to be a destination to be viable. I went to the much newer and smaller Public Market in Milwaukee set up as a place to not only provide people with a place to buy fresh vegtables, but a place to meet friends for coffee, buy fresh baked goods, full of wonderful smells and places to sit comfortably, with more than adequate bathroom facilities, etc. A minimalist grocery store at the Broadway Market with limited selections spells poverty, re-sale booths simply re-selling vegtables grown elsewhere, and nick knacks just don’t make it as a place to go to. The bakeries are great and should be ‘manned’ fulltime, and if possible with baked goods prepared on-site. With new immigrants coming to Buffalo and living in the Broadway-Fillmore area it’s an opportunity to market to their tastes and needs year round. With urban famrers working and growing produce on the east side it should and could be an affordable location to market their wares. Young families interested in good fresh food will come there to shop just as they do at the Lexiington Co-op on the west side. Artists should be encouraged to locate their workshops and galleries on the east side with reasonable rents and frankly given free space to draw customers in for all stalls or vendors in the Market. Some residents are working to make improvements in the neighborhoods, particularly the Fillmore Corridor Neighborhood Coalition. The Market can use all the help it can get. They need to open the mental doors to change.

  • Dan

    > With new immigrants coming to Buffalo and living in the Broadway-Fillmore area it’s an opportunity to market to their tastes and needs year round.
    I want to emphasize this. The Broadway Market essentially still functions as a Polish-American market. Great for bringing them back to the old neighborhood from Cheektowaga on the week before Easter, great for the remaining holdouts during the rest of the year, but not really a good business model for survival. The market caters to a population base that’s mostly gone.

  • RBRevival

    This area of Ferndale is rather trendy. There was a decent amount of shops and returants around the Rustbelt Market. It wasn’t overly pedestrian friendly though. The Rustbelt Market is actually in an Old Navy that was vacant for quite some time. Not exactly Broadway-Fillmore, but again they were starting from scratch and didn’t have city backing.

  • BuffaloQPublic

    Rand503 – Re: “Today, it is worse than a mausoleum. I couldn’t plan a more depressing shopping experience if I tried.”
    It appears you have not been to the market lately. Certainly it has a good distance to go but there are visible signs of improvement and more energy.
    Speaking of markets . . . I urge the Broadway Mkt officials to visit the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia for some inspiration. It was recently featured on the Food Channel. Impressive would be a huge understatement.
    The atmosphere and variety of offerings are extensive, exciting and inexpensive. There are lots of places to eat at, including an Amish spot which serves hot apple dumplings with whip cream AND heavy cream, if desired. Be still my taste buds!
    I went online to learn more and came across info and comments on
    About 99% percent of them were highly complimentary. Examples: “It’s like Disney World for the mouth.” “The best market on earth.”

  • grad94

    agree completely, but one of the problems is that the most lively immigrant neighborhood now centers on the west side (grant st.) instead of the east side. it’s a geographic mismatch.

  • New2Buffalo

    Another awesome market to take a look at:
    This one is in Brooklyn, NY and is held every Sat/Sun during Spring/Summer/Fall because it is outdoors however I imagine it would be good indoors all year round as well. It is foodcentric though. The mention of the 90,000 sqft could lend to HALF the broadway market hosting a more permanent/rotating art/goods area and the other half something like this on the weekend that draws in more people on Saturdays and Sundays. I attended this market in Brooklyn a year ago and it was awesome. I got hot japanese ramen, bbq, gourmet donuts… there was a wide variety of freshly prepared selections from all the various ethnic and american favorites. Maybe tons of people don’t visit the Broadway Market to eat at every day but I know the “foodies” would love to go to a place on the weekend where they could get small bites from their favorite Buffalo restaurants/food trucks/etc. I imagine booths representing each food truck, 5 points bakery, globe market, sweetness 7, delish, paula’s donuts, niagara cafe, and others representing the best of buffalo’s indian, ethiopian, japanese, thai, korean, etc. There would also be booths representing businesses that make gourmet offerings to take home and enjoy for the week like lake effect ice cream and whatever other delicious food or handy food related goods that is out there being made by Western New Yorkers.
    Off subject; this would also be cool if it just ended up being something every weekend at Canalside during the “cooperative weather” months.

  • grad94

    newell, if your saturday flea market outgrows lafayette pres. church, we have a nice public market for you.

  • Kyle Broflovski

    Clevelands West Side Market and surrounding Ohio City/West 25th area is another perfect example of artisain synergy and catylisitc growth caused by a historic marketplace. It probably helped that they had Great Lakes Brewing Co. across the street to invest in the area, but either way the neighborhood has made huge strides.