Don’t Underestimate the Potential of Open Air Markets
By Michael Stumpf, July 2006
any cities search for solutions to fill malls and similar venues, such as airport
vacant buildings or restore vitality to concourses.
their downtown business districts. Con-
Some cities have embraced this idea, creating
sidering all of this hard work, it may seem ironic
indoor public markets in new buildings, old
that they ignore, or even prohibit street vending
warehouses, or even in conference centers, where
and public marketplaces. Among the oldest forms
farmer's markets or retail trade can occur on a
or trade, these practices were all but eliminated in
regular basis. In other places, cities have
the last half of the 20th century. A handful of
dedicated spaces in plazas or even on public
communities are once again discovering their po-
sidewalks where vendors can sell their products.
tential value as economic engines.
Markets are some of the most interesting and
Think of the typical community festival. Along
often-visited attractions in many communities.
with parades and games you will usually find food
Consider Pike Place Market in Seattle, the French
tents and a sidewalk sale. More customers will
Market (with Café du Mond) in New Orleans, or
come into town on those days than any other time
the native crafts market at the Governor’s Palace
of the year. For the businesses displaying goods
in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
outside of their shop doors, these may be among
the most profitable days of the year. The These marketplaces have enjoyed a great deal of
organizations and individuals selling food make success in attracting people who patronize area
money as well. In the same way, farmers selling businesses along with market vendors, helping to
produce in roadside stands or farmer's markets revitalize the district. They do more than attract
can add significantly to their farm income. What if customers, though. Public markets act as a busi-
activities like these could occur more frequently, ness incubator. It takes only a small investment to
or even year-round? set up a market booth, but the experience and
income gained from this effort is often a catalyst
The idea isn’t entirely alien. In the last decade we
for the owner to establish a permanent retail lo-
have seen growing use of the common area inside
cation, generally in a nearby storefront.
malls for this purpose. Some national retaile is
conducted almost exclusively through kiosks at
Michael Stumpf is a consultant in community planning, economic development, and
1 market analysis, based in New Berlin, Wisconsin.