To Market To Market

This Week at Saxelby Cheesemongers

To Market To Market…

This Monday brings a little discourse on the Essex Street Market and the public markets of New York City. For those of you who have never been to the Essex Street Market, well, you are missing out on something wonderful. Nowhere else in New York City does such a market exist. Essex Street Market is a veritable palimpsest of the Lower East Side, representing all of its varied and colorful inhabitants and their foodstuffs.

When walking down Essex Street, arriving at the corner of Essex and Delancey, you wouldn’t necessarily note that the market was there at all. Besides some pale blue lettering on the exterior of the building announcing its existence, you might think you were walking past a school or a public swimming pool or some other such civic edifice. Mayor Fiorello Laguardia, who built the market in the early 1940’s would be quite proud of that fact, as he constructed Essex along with a whole host of other markets across the city in the spare modern style of the day. However, the market’s bland facade reveals very little about the flurry of activity taking place within its walls during daylight hours.

Originally built to extricate pushcart vendors from the clogged streets of lower Manhattan, the Essex Market has always been home to a menagerie of vendors from all walks of life. Today, along with fishmongers, greengrocers, and butchers, you’ll find a barber who can give you a stellar haircut for eight dollars, a tailor, an electronics repairman who can restore ancient appliances to working order, and a second generation fishmonger/cake artist capable of building you a cake to look like anything from a pirate ship to a couple tumbling about underneath the sheets.

The thing about Essex that makes it such an amazing institution is the fact that all of these vendors have been brought together under one roof to pursue their distinctly different businesses, coexisting with and adding to one another’s offerings. Essex is not a market that was designed by a fancy firm in order to sell you a gourmet shopping experience or to bring tourists down to the neighborhood, on the contrary, it has grown in strange and unpredictable directions, adapting to and attesting to the growth of the neighborhood and its character.

Essex Street Market is a public market, meaning that it is owned and managed by the city, for the benefit of the city’s residents. In cities across the globe these kinds of markets are a given, and serve as a public forum for food and community. However, in New York these kinds of markets are notably lacking. Alongside Essex, the only other surviving markets from the Laguardia era are La Marqueta in Harlem and the Moore Street Market in East Williamsburg. The Greenmarket system is undoubtedly a venerable and fantastic New York City institution, but could be added to and augmented by new market projects in the city.

Foremost among these projects is New Amsterdam Public, a not for profit organization dedicated to establishing a permanent, covered, year-round market at the site of the old Fulton Fish Market. New Amsterdam Public would feature only food grown within a 500 mile radius of New York, and would add to the potency of the Greenmarket by offering access to the bounty that our region has to offer every day of the week in a setting that is a bit less dependent on the weather and its whims. Also, for all those farmers who live just a bit too far to drive down to the city each week to vend their wares, a new public market full of specialty purveyors would allow New Yorkers access to a wider and more varied spectrum of fruits, veggies, cheeses, meats, and fish.

For all those who love markets and who relish wandering through the aisles of Essex, I would encourage you to check out New Amsterdam’s current plans and progress. There might just be a way that you could get involved and help a new public market to take root in New York City’s original, historic market district.

For more information on New Amsterdam Public or Essex Street Market, visit these cyberspaces:

Here’s to the markets. May they ever feed, inspire, and entertain us!

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