Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Benefits of Markets

Back in April when the City Council had a hearing on the Bronx Terminal Market merchant relocation, a man by the name of Irwin Cohen gave perhaps the most heartfelt, interesting testimony of the afternoon. Cohen is the developer of the Chelsea Market, a highly successful wholesale/retail venture that includes a mixture of local vendors. He recounted growing up in the multi-lingual borough of Brooklyn where immigrant and ethnic market vendors sold everything imaginable. To him, the market is a quintessential New York City institution, one that brings small businesses together and provides New Yorkers with the wide array of products that can only be found in this great city.

Cohen also added that markets are excellent economic engines that can revitalize whole areas by bringing in foot traffic and nurturing neighborhood businesses. He mentioned that when he first proposed the Chelsea market, the area was deemed beyond repair but now many years later, in part due to the market’s vibrancy, the area is one of the hottest parts of the city. He believes the same thing can happen in the Bronx with the merchants at the Terminal Market.

Jonathan Bowles, in this month’s City Limits, interviews Irwin Cohen who elaborates more on his vision for the Bronx Terminal Market’s preservation/expansion. Cohen believes that making sure the merchants stay together is key:

So, you think it’s important for the vendors to remain together?

Yes. New York City is one of the few cities in the entire United States that has such a huge number of similar businesses. Where else can you have a section called Madison Avenue with advertising agencies? Where else do you have a theater district? These are markets. The Bronx is a terrific place for this market. The fact that these wholesalers want to stay in the Bronx is the most exciting part of the whole plan, because everyone else wants to be in Manhattan. But if they’re willing to work in the Bronx, you can combine them with other uses to spur development there.
Cohen then points out that the Bronx Terminal Market could eventually become the economic/cultural boon that the Chelsea market has become:

Think about the Chelsea Market. Nobody has to come here. It’s on the periphery of the neighborhood. The next thing you see is New Jersey. But why do people come here? Because we have a concentration of vendors. Every company is family-owned. There are no chains. If you want to get that special birthday cake that Ruthie’s Cheesecake sells, you can’t get it anywhere in New York except here, because this is where it’s made. And if you want Amy’s Bread as it’s coming out of the oven, this is the only place to get it. You’re not going to get Amy’s bread from Gristedes. That’s why people come here. Markets work.
This is why we have been clamoring so loudly for the BTM’s preservation and criticizing the city for its negligence and disregard. If nurtured and expanded, the Bronx Terminal Market could easily become a unique commercial center for immigrant and ethnic products. The creation of such a market would further assist in the Bronx’s revitalization and provide local, immigrant entrepreneurs with untold opportunities. Instead of taking the Sassanow position – “EDC will not consider construction of a new market ... [the city] has no obligation to provide relocation for them [the merchants]" - the city should learn from Irwin Cohen and do what it can to make sure the BTM is preserved and expanded. It should also reread Susan Fainstein's report on the BTM's relocation for it too shows that markets like the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia and Pike Place Market in Seattle are incredibly successful retail/wholesale centers that uniquely serve those respective cities both economically and culturally.