Except for the selection of dried beans at Urban Herbs, the Westside Market in Cleveland doesn’t sell anything you can’t find in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. What they have that we don’t have is a grand work of marketplace architecture.
If we still had the Allegheny Markethouse
, people would surely travel to see and shop in it. That dawned on me on the ride home from a trip to Cleveland over the weekend.
I marveled at the beauty of the building, built in the early 20th century, with a beautiful vaulted brick ceiling (shown below, left) and generous window light.
The trip prompted many thoughts about what we have and don’t have and led to a rumination on the potential of the Pittsburgh Public Market
and the Terminal Building
on Smallman Street to be long-term additions to the scene. The terminal building is not a grand work of marketplace architecture, but it’s the closest thing we have to an historic and iconic symbol of the legacy of the Strip. The Terminal Building was the incubator that gave rise to the vibrant retail scene that defines the Strip as we know it today.
It was the first point of sale — wholesale — before supermarkets took control of their own distribution networks. It remained a wholesale food center until several years ago, when it began to empty because of uncertainty over its future use. When last year the Buncher Co. proposed a riverfront development that would eliminate the western third of the five-block long building, the Pittsburgh Public Market, which established in 2010 in a small portion of the Terminal Building, relocated to 2401 Penn Ave.
It has 20 full-time vendors and six part-time vendors using a little more than 3,000 square feet of the 12,000 that’s available.
special projects manager for Neighbors in the Strip
, said the public market has recently received county and federal grants to install a shared use commercial kitchen that should give more vendors an incentive to move in. Ventilation hoods are expensive and many of the people who have occupied spaces there are early-in entrepreneurs.
“We think the commercial kitchen will help support them,” she said.
If you want to get your toes into the restaurant market, a license and maintenance fee of a little more than $500 a month, with a connection to utilities and a kitchen, is a great incentive. It will be interesting to see whether the shared commercial kitchen boosts participation in the only public market house Pittsburgh has.
The Pittsburgh Public Market was and is a laudable venture for Neighbors in the Strip to advocate into being and to manage as the leasor of the building. It was in large part NIS’s brainchild based on visits to the several remaining historic markets within reasonable driving distance, the Westside Market being one.
Pittsburgh’s potential to support a growing public market house and a renovated Terminal Building and the current storefronts of the Strip is an unknown.
“With the planned residential development” by Buncher, “we potentially have a larger local market, and our tourist market grows every year,” Cindy said. “We did a market study before the [public] market opened and it showed that in a 20 mile radius around Pittsburgh there was a stronger demand for niche food products than the existing supply.”
As I toured the Westside Market, I caught myself oohing and aahing, wondering why at first and then realizing why — the intensity of consolidation. It is Wholey’s, Penn Mac, Stamolis, Parma Sausage, Sam Bok, Stan’s, Labad’s, La Prima and every farmers’ market all together in one big teeming, gleaming -- and at times overwhelming -- place.
As a Pittsburgher, I love the Strip and think it is more interesting than any marketplace I’ve visited except in the Third World.
I would love to see people flock around vendors packing every available space in the Pittsburgh Public Market and at the Terminal Building if it is developed into a food-oriented regional draw and remain just as devoted to the Strip’s street scene.
I wonder how much we would have to grow -- or how far regionally we would have to draw -- to achieve that kind of massing.
But the certainty I came away with from Cleveland was that a great city needs a great indoor market scene and any city that still has its old-world market house is blessed, lucky, farsighted or all three.
Photos, from the Westside Market, by Paul Nawrocki