In contrast to the Broadway Market (see part 1 of the series
), a high profile, struggling entity, the Clinton-Bailey Market doesn't get a lot of press and is rarely a topic of conversation at the dinner table or bar stool. I have never heard that the Market is struggling financially or is attracting a viable amount of vendors and customers. However, after a trip to Detroit's Eastern Market
I began to wonder if the Clinton-Bailey Market is living up to its potential.
WNY has a great assortment of farmers markets every Saturday from Spring to Fall. Whether it's Bidwell Parkway, the Williamsville Famers Market, or the parking lot in the Village of Hamburg, these markets provide a great opportunity for local growers to get fresh fruits and vegetables into the hands of the consumer. But due to the size and small number of vendors at some of these markets, they can almost be considered boutique farmers markets. There are some produce bargains mixed in with some higher-end, more expensive goods such as wine, jams and gourmet cheeses. I had never been blown away by a farmers market as a destination though, until I visited Eastern Market.
The Saturday we visited Detroit, my girlfriend and I had been out seeing some sites and had come across several signs posted advertising the Eastern Market. It was on the way back to the hotel so we decided to check it out on a whim.
The market is located just north east of downtown Detroit, at the intersection of I-75 and I-375, making it easily accessible for both residents of the city as well as those from the expansive suburbs that surround Detroit.
We found free parking in one of the surface lots that dot the area around the Eastern Market. There also seemed to be ample street parking in addition to these lots. This is important, as part of the draw of a farmers market is the direct-to-consumer savings. If that savings is eaten up in parking fees it defeats part of the purpose.
We entered the Eastern Market from its Northern end, and immediately came across a huge assortment of flowers, house plants, trees and other landscaping products. The market was bustling; customers were carrying full flats of flowers from the stand to their cars that their friends and family had strategically pulled up to the curb. This first block of the market was as large as any of the farmers markets I had been to previously. I thought I was looking at the majority of the market, which came across as some sort of specialty plant and flowers market. It seemed cool enough, but not what I was expecting.
As we walked through the market from Shed to Shed, the products changed from plants, to fruits and vegetables. Vendors were drastically marking down product as the end of the day approached and shouted out deals trying to make final sales while patrons strolled through munching on some of the ready to eat products. I thought to myself, "Now this, this is a market!"
After we finished exploring all the sheds in the market itself, we started to walk the streets around the market. The whole area was dedicated to food. Many of the local producers had setup their operations around the market. Germack, a company that makes all the peanuts for the Detroit sports teams, was right across the street. There was a cafe next door serving up great gourmet coffee and a BBQ joint had chairs and karaoke setup in the street allowing customers to entertain and be entertained. This area was more than just a farmers market, it was a food district, each operation playing off of each other to create a completely unique destination.
The same bones exist in Buffalo's Clinton-Bailey market that spurred the success of the Eastern Market. The area around Clinton-Bailey is the food distribution center of WNY. Many restaurants come here in the early morning to obtain the produce they serve to us all around the city. Desidario's has a large facility right next to the property and has enjoyed great success over the past decade as there has been a push towards healthier lifestyles. The market itself already has some "sheds" as the Eastern Market calls them, although every time I visit the market they seem vastly underutilized.
It would be beneficial for Buffalo and WNY to not only establish a go-to farmers market with the variety and draw of the Eastern Market, but also a stronger food district around that area. We all know Buffalo has great local food products, but they seem to be scattered though throughout the city. A strong market drawing tens of thousands of people on a weekend could lead to a critical mass food district, so that when a new producer is starting up he or she would want to be in that district because of the spin-off business. An established district like this could also help avoid issues such as the controversy with the slaughter house that tried to open up on William Street. The city can say "we have a place for your business", and that place is the Clinton-Bailey section of Buffalo.
I think of food producers that have relocated within WNY over the last few years. English Pork Pie Company recently filled a vacant building, which is a win, though they are rather isolated on South Park and customers need to make a special stop. Premium Roasters on Route 5 has a great product, and store, but could benefit from foot traffic generated by a large famers market.
Consumers obviously benefit as well. As the pendulum begins to swing back from highly processed packaged foods, to an emphasis on a healthier diet, access to fresh foods will become increasingly important. The variety at Eastern Market was second to none, while the prices driven by all the competition were truly whole sale prices.
Some may question the location. This area of Buffalo is often thought of as a pass through neighborhood. It's further from Downtown than the Eastern Market in Detroit, but it is easily accessible from the I-190 which runs into the mainline I-90 a few miles east. This allows for easy access for both vendors and customers. The removal of the Ogden toll booths also makes this area more inviting for all parties. There are areas for parking around the market if it were to grow in size, which could stay free unlike other locations throughout the city. In the past few years ideas have been floated for a market downtown that mimics the Pike Place Market. It's important to remember that great downtowns alone don't make great cities, great neighborhood are necessary as well. This kind of investment, in what is a mostly stable but somewhat forgotten area, could be another piece of the puzzle.
What would it take to get this done? Obviously this transition won't happen overnight. First, Clinton-Bailey needs to spread the word about what they have and when they have it. Many of my friends and family don't even know this market exists. Incremental facility improvements could go a long way, the Eastern Market had obviously invested in their facilities to enhance the experience of both shoppers and vendors. The Clinton-Bailey market is not much fun in inclement weather, better use of the sheds and more enclosed facilities would lessen the affect wind, rain and snow has on patrons. Niagara Frontier Growers who run Clinton-Bailey would have to adopt a more comprehensive and aggressive plan for the market and the area. The mission statement of the Eastern Market Corporation is impressive in focus and goals.
"The mission of the Eastern Market Corporation is to mobilize leadership and resources to achieve stakeholders vision for the Eastern Market District and make the Eastern Market the undisputed center for fresh and nutritious food in southeast Michigan."
I hope we all continue to enjoy our markets in Buffalo and WNY, in whatever form they take. The beauty of markets though is that they are organic - each small stand or table adds to the experience or takes away from it. To me they are a breath of fresh air in a market place where as a consumer I feel further and further away from the source. A trip to Detroit left me asking if we are giving enough and getting enough from our Markets.