Eastern Market: Creating a successful farmer's market district

November 28, 2006 1 comment Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

On any given Saturday, some 45,000 Detroiters, suburbanites and out-of-staters can be found shopping elbow-to-elbow at Eastern Market, just North of downtown Detroit. The success of this market has not only made it a profitable city owned operation, but one that has become the economic catalyst for the redevelopment of a former industrial district surrounding it.

As the JEDC and Beaver Street Fisheries hastily make plans to relocate Jacksonville's market next door, to make room for Beaver's plant expansion, a lot more vision is needed from our decision makers on this issue.  To put it bluntly, this has become much more than replacing the sheds of a struggling local public market.  Instead, its the perfect opportunity for Jacksonville to finally do something right and not only fix the market's profitbility problems, but also spur the revitalization of an entire inner city district.


Built on the site of an early hay and wood market, the Eastern Market area was one of three markets founded in the early days. The farmers market portion moved to the present Eastern Market area site in 1891 from the old Cadillac Square area 1841. The Western Market was closed in 1965. Chene-Ferry Market was closed in 1990.

Although an open-air farmers' market existed prior to the Civil War, the first sales shed was built in 1891 in the Vernor, Russell, Gratiot area, amid several other food establishments which had already located in the area. As the market area prospered, additional sheds were constructed in 1922 and 1929. Through the post-Depression era, the Eastern Market area grew, expanding in size and logging record truckloads of farm products and other items as well, including beverages, and unique retail merchandise.

Following World War II, pre-packaged foods and the beginnings of the modern supermarket, shopping was altered for Detroiters and the way they shopped for food. So did Eastern Market, as more wholesalers and processors located in the area. Eastern Market developed into an important hub for the southeastern Michigan food distribution industry. Plans are to make it bigger, better and more efficient for the future.

Eastern Market was declared a historic area in 1977 by the State of Michigan Historical Commission. Many of the original buildings are still in operation today.




Eastern Market sits in the middle of an industrial district boxed in by an abandoned rail line, Interstate 75 and Gratiot Avenue, about a mile north of downtown Detroit.  The difference between this establishment and Jacksonville's is that it opens up to adjacent buildings, creating a compact pedestrian friendly setting, allowing synergy to grow between the market and businesses in nearby buildings.  The brief photo below tour follows the light blue walking path shown in the aerial above.  The market's facilities are high lighted in yellow.

A. This open air structure is located next door to a two level parking deck for market customers.  Pedestrian traffic moves through the central portion of the shed, while trucks and service vehicles from the vendors back up on the outside.


B. This building is a fully enclosed non-air conditioned space shaped like a cross.  A concession stand sits at the center, while large garage doors are located along the exterior, allowing vendors to sell goods directly out of their trucks and vans.


B1. This image shows a local meat wholesaler's stand, set up out of the back of one of their vehicles.


B2. This image taken inside the enclosed market building shows a farmer selling his goods out of the back of his truck.  With this design, like a typical mall, most of the market's pedestrian traffic is separated from loading areas and automobile traffic.  On the other hand, Jacksonville current market's sheds (shown below) are divided by automobile access drives and parking stalls, hindering the concept of having vendor spaces as close as possible to each other to encourage a strong sense of synergy and vibrancy within the market itself.

ABOVE: Jacksonville's pedestrian movement is hindered by surface parking stalls and access drives.


C. This open air structure is located just south of Eastern market's main enclosed building.  Although the market covers a few blocks, none of the existing city blocks were closed off.  Instead, large cross walks were added to help accomodate service vehicles, loading areas and pedestrian safety.


C1.  An image of the open air shed's exterior facade and crosswalk across a through street.  The shed is shaped in the form of a cross, allowing parking and loading areas on site, yet still accomodating pedestrian movement in a walkable urban manner.  As we design new sheds, this is something we need to keep in mind and apply if possible.


Like most markets, Eastern attracts a large number of customers.  However, unlike Jacksonville's, its urban and pedestrian oriented design allows for easy interaction with surrounding buildings in the area.  This has resulted in many housing several types of uses that complement the market, thus creating a special market district and major destination in the process. 

D. The buildings in this image are located directly across the street from the market's southern open air shed.  Tenants operating here include Flat Planet Pizza, Zeff's Coney Island and the Russell Street Deli.  After all, the market has grown to be so popular that many make a day out of visiting the area, grabbing a bite to eat in the process. 


E. This view of Russell Street, looking into the market from I-75's interchange with Gratiot Avenue, gives a glimpse of how the market and the surrounding buildings interact with each other.  On the right, notice the market's sheds come directly to the street, while still allowing parking and loading areas on site.  Across the street, privately owned businesses and buildings have been constructed along the street with little to no setbacks for anything other than diagonal parking.  With the simple addition of crosswalks, across Russell Street, pedestrian movement easily flows allowing the surrounding properties to become essentially extended parts of the market themselves.

On the other hand, Jacksonville's current market and planned market sites (see below) are boxed in so bad by suburban oriented development and the railroads, that any chance at creating synergy such as this has virtually been eliminated from ever happening.

ABOVE: The current and proposed market sites are cut off from their surroundings by railyards, Beaver Street Fisheries, Beaver Street and the Beaver Street viaduct.  This bad location is a major culprit in the market struggling to make a decent profit today.  This is a problem new sheds won't solve.  Instead a solution involving a new and better location that allows for future interaction with its surroundings will have to be addressed, if the ultimate goal is to keep the market open and increase its vendor and customer base.


F. This block is located directly across the street from Eastern Market's main parking area.  The businesses housed in these buildings include R. Hirt Jr (Cheese Wholesaler), Vivo's Italian Restaurant and Eastern Seafood Market.


G. Butcher's Saloon, a district watering hole is located along Winder Street, a block away from the nearest market shed.


G1. Across the street from Butcher's is Embassy Foods.  Embassy is one of many private wholesalers operating in the area, that also sell an assortment of goods to the public, whose primary reason for visiting the area is the market, which is a short block away.

In an earlier thread, the alternative sites Metro Jacksonville mentioned for our market, are both located in largely abandoned and under utilized industrial and warehouse districts such as the area around Eastern Market in Detroit.  Potentially relocating Jacksonville's market to one of those vacant and available sites instantly creates the opportunity of attracting private wholesalers, retail and dining establishments to locate nearby creating more customers for the market's vendors in the process.

ABOVE: This large vacant warehouse sits directly in the middle of what was once a bustling industrial district along Beaver Street, only a short distance away from the current market.  However, unlike the current and proposed locations, a large number of abandoned brick warehouse facilities lie nearby and its visible from I-95, as well as located a short block from I-95's interchange with Church Street.  This site is superior in every fashion to the current and proposed market site.  With JEDC involved and Beaver Street asking for incentives to construct new sheds, that money could go toward purchasing the existing brick warehouse, which already includes covered space, parking areas, land for open air vendors and loading docks for trucks.

This corned beef wholesaler is located adjacent to the abandoned rail line, a few blocks away from the market.  Many of the old industrial buildings now have food related uses such as this company, due to the market attracting a large amount of visitors nearby.  When synergy is allowed and promoted between the market and the surrounding district, not only does the market's chances of success grow, but hundreds of new jobs are also created in the inner city as well, from food companies wanting in on the action.

The combination of creating hundreds of jobs in the inner city, increasing the market's / downtown's success and the warehouse district's revival are strong reasons to why the JEDC and the city should do everything possible to convince Beaver Street Fisheries to relocate the market east of the viaduct. 

For more information on the Detriot's Eastern Market and the district surrounding it: www.easternmarket.org


Farmer's Market to Relocate! Why not Downtown? http://www.metrojacksonville.com/content/view/238/5/

Jacksonville Farmer's Market: Photo      http://www.metrojacksonville.com/content/view/242/5/

Relocate Farmer's Market? Metro Jacksonville takes heat! http://www.metrojacksonville.com/content/view/252/5/