Detroit's Eastern Market, the city's 201-year-old open-air food market, has been at its present location between Russell and Riopelle streets and north of Gratiot Avenue since 1891. It has recently been privatized, and now operates under an umbrella organization coordinated by Kate Beebe. We spoke with her recently.
Jeff Broder: There's a buzz about changes in the market. What's going on?
Kate Beebe: The business of the public market is wholesale, and that's very active on weekdays. They set up at 11 p.m. and they are gone by 6 a.m. It's very active, especially at this time of year, when farmers and growers come in and sell to local markets like Salvaggio's and Papa Joe's. It's very busy during what we call "the night hours" the early morning hours. The second business is the one that most people are familiar with; that's on Saturdays. It's what we call the retail market, which starts at 6 a.m. and runs to 5 p.m. We have added to those businesses a third and a fourth that are part of the Eastern Market Corporation's reason for being. One is to stimulate economic development in the market district and to put together a plan for the market district and to advocate for improvements in small business development as an attraction to the area. The second element that we have added is outreach for the Market in that we want to make Eastern Market a center for food accessibility and food education, a center for food for southeast Michigan.
MT: What led to the privatization?
Beebe: I don't like the term "privatization." It has a sense of securing something and locking it up, which is not what this is about at all. We put together an umbrella organization to take on all the individual efforts and to improve the market and the market district. It came out of years of recommendations that began with the Archer administration and then with the Kilpatrick administration and most recently with the Urban Land Institute panel, folks who came in from around the country to make recommendations on how to make the improvements. We have a number of folks in the market who are community leaders and power brokers, so they have all gotten together and said, "Let's go this route of the umbrella organization." Its board is one-third city department heads, one-third market stakeholders people who own businesses or have residences in the market and one-third people who have special interest in the market, people who have contributed funds, organizations, foundations, the governor's office. Sometimes it's like riding a herd of calves, but everyone is committed to making it work.
MT: What changes can we expect to see?
Beebe: We have put together a plan working with stakeholders and the city that focuses on Shed 2, which was built in 1894. We will take it back to the original structure in appearance, but it will have modern plumbing and lighting and floor drainage. It will be a special place for growers and farmers, a place for visitors to get farm-grown foods, organics and seasonal foods, and our Detroit urban farmers will be there. Shed 3 will be winterized so that shoppers can find their basic food needs there. Shed 4 is going to be for the market office and for food education and for overflow from the other sheds. Shed 5 will be a center for plants and flowers, more of a greenhouse. There is also some talk of a farm within the market in the future. We are making changes in security and maintenance and especially in promotion of the market, which has been nonexistent. The market will be cleaner than it has been and safe for everyone to visit and do business.
MT: What special events are planned?
Beebe: Apple Day is Oct 21. Winter Fest is during the holiday season. Flower Day, which signals the opening of the growing season, is in early May. Throughout the market season there will be buskers, old-time entertainers who have been in markets for hundreds of years. It could be a mime or a magician or singers, not amplified bands, but more reminiscent of bygone days.
MT: Do you have any favorites here?
Beebe: Mr. Ridley, the apple man in Shed 2, brings apples and peaches from the west side of the state. The egg man, the third generation, sells farm-fresh brown eggs. Also in on the north end of Shed 3 is the maple syrup man who sells Michigan maple syrup. My husband swears it's the best he's had and that includes syrup from Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. Rafal Spice has great coffee. We've got a new bakery and muffin shop opening in a couple of weeks on Russell. Butcher's Inn reopened recently. Roma Café has been here forever. There are lofts for rent or for sale. What we think is really special here is the urban experience that differentiates the Eastern Market. It is a unique experience in a large city, and we intend to make it even better. I really believe that the market and the neighborhood have the potential to be pre-eminent in the nation. It is a huge challenge with rewards for the entire community.Jeff Broder does this twice-monthly food interview for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]