Indianapolis looks to Cleveland, Philadelphia for City Market examples

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.

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

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.”

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.