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Indianapolis looks to Cleveland, Philadelphia for City Market examples

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The troubled Indianapolis City Market is looking East for a new direction. This summer, its executive director, Jim Reilly, visited Philadelphia and Cleveland to observe their successful urban markets and seek pointers that might be applied here.

Self-sufficient with a $3.5 million annual budget and 5.2 million customers annually, Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market is what the Indianapolis City Market aspires to be. Located downtown with 78,000 square feet under roof, it opened its doors in 1892. Crowded inside, 80 full-time tenants and 12 part-timers sell a mix of fresh meat, seafood and produce along with a variety of prepared meals, from local favorites like cheese steaks to Italian, Greek and Mexican fare.

General Manager Paul Steinke said his market struggled in the 1970s and came close to closing. Philadelphia spent $35 million to fully restore the Reading Terminal Market in the mid 1990s. It benefits from Philadelphia’s downtown population—at 80,000, the third densest in the nation. Many residents shop there for groceries, and they come from all walks of life. Steinke said it’s common to see folks redeeming food stamps in line with clearly affluent shoppers, and a wide mix of locals mingling with tourists.

Reading Terminal enjoys several features City Market lacks, all of them contributing to its constant traffic flow. The famous Reading Railroad’s main passenger terminal was built above the market, so vendors have always had a reason to take root.

Indianapolis historic City Market is struggling with low traffic. (IBJ Photo/Robin Jerstad)

Today, Philadelphia’s convention center is right across the street. There’s also easy access nearby to the new train station and access points for the subway, bus or trolley. And Reading Terminal offers $2 per hour parking in a 5,000-space garage, the same as meters on the street, but far better than the $12 per hour for private lots.

“It all adds up to a lot of people passing near and through this market every day,” Steinke said. “Our success is both a factor of our location, and the way we manage the place to keep it relevant to both locals and tourists.”

With a $1.2 million budget and 1 million visitors annually, Cleveland’s West Side Market offers different lessons. Its manager, George Bradac, said his market has 100 stands in the main building and another 81 vendors in its vegetable arcade. It was founded in 1912. Cleveland stopped subsidizing operations in the 1980s, although the city is still on the hook for capital improvements.

Located outside the city at a mass transit hub, West Side Market is open only four days each week. Bradac said the recession has been a struggle, but weekends are still busy.

Perhaps most important is West Side’s continual marketing. Its tenants charge themselves dues that are applied to print, television, radio and billboard ads.

“Tenants are very involved in the operation of this building,” Bradac said.

Both Reading Terminal and West Side charge staggered rent rates for different kinds of stands. Fresh food vendors pay less than prepared food vendors do. The best locations inside the markets also go for a premium.

Steinke advises Indianapolis to aim for critical mass inside the City Market. Ultimately, he said, the success of an urban market rests on its mix of stands, and the ability of people to easily reach them.

“It’s all about leasing and finding vendors known for service and value, having them all under one roof,” he said. “You can reach a point where the total is greater than the sum of its parts. Any one of our vendors in a storefront might not do as well as in a group.”

 

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  • Ethnicity of vendors and music
    The variety of ethnic foods would be enhanced if live entertainment inside the market on the balcony or instrumentalist walking the market like is done in Mexico and some European nations. Prepare an area easily closed off with portable partitions for business meetings, networking, or private friends/family dining together. Terry a frequent "market patron".
  • Expected problems
    The immediate area has been 'gutted' of residential, office and retail. The Market doesn't need help--the area needs development, then the Market will once again be a viable resource. Unfortunately, due to poor planning and an inability to develop the multi-year old MSA parking 'desert'..what expectations should we have but what's evolved?

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  1. Why not take some time to do some research before traveling to that Indiana town or city, and find the ones that are no smoking either inside, or have a patio? People like yourself are just being selfish, and unnecessarily trying to take away all indoor venues that smokers can enjoy themselves at. Last time I checked, it is still a free country, and businesses do respond to market pressure and will ban smoking, if there's enough demand by customers for it(i.e. Linebacker Lounge in South Bend, and Rack and Helen's in New Haven, IN, outside of Fort Wayne). Indiana law already unnecessarily forced restaurants with a bar area to be no smoking, so why not support those restaurants that were forced to ban smoking against their will? Also, I'm always surprised at the number of bars that chose to ban smoking on their own, in non-ban parts of Indiana I'll sometimes travel into. Whiting, IN(just southeast of Chicago) has at least a few bars that went no smoking on their own accord, and despite no selfish government ban forcing those bars to make that move against their will! I'd much rather have a balance of both smoking and non-smoking bars, rather than a complete bar smoking ban that'll only force more bars to close their doors. And besides IMO, there are much worser things to worry about, than cigarette smoke inside a bar. If you feel a bar is too smoky, then simply walk out and take your business to a different bar!

  2. As other states are realizing the harm in jailing offenders of marijuana...Indiana steps backwards into the script of Reefer Madness. Well...you guys voted for your Gov...up to you to vote him out. Signed, Citizen of Florida...the next state to have medical marijuana.

  3. It's empowering for this niche community to know that they have an advocate on their side in case things go awry. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lrst9VXVKfE

  4. Apparently the settlement over Angie's List "bundling" charges hasn't stopped the practice! My membership is up for renewal, and I'm on my third email trying to get a "basic" membership rather than the "bundled" version they're trying to charge me for. Frustrating!!

  5. Well....as a vendor to both of these builders I guess I have the right to comment. Davis closed his doors with integrity.He paid me every penny he owed me. Estridge,STILL owes me thousands and thousands of dollars. The last few years of my life have been spent working 2 jobs, paying off the suppliers I used to work on Estridge jobs and just struggling to survive. Shame on you Paul...and shame on you IBJ! Maybe you should have contacted the hundreds of vendors that Paul stiffed. I'm sure your "rises from the ashes" spin on reporting would have contained true stories of real people who have struggled to find work and pay of their debts (something that Paul didn't even attempt to do).

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