Want to Improve Soulard Market? Improve Its Surroundings

Soulard neighborhood - STLA decade ago Soulard Market was described as "falling into disrepair", "dirty, drab, dark". Sales were reportedly slipping and people complained that the open-air market was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. In stepped the Danforth Foundation, forming Soulard Restoration, Inc. to develop a rejuvenation plan for the market. A board was formed and a plan hatched. Problem was, the vendors themselves roundly rejected proposed changes and the plan wilted faster than the greens on the floor of stall 38 in early August.

But like all ideas, good and bad, the "rejuvenation" of Soulard Market is back. This time, a survey on the market's website asked for community input regarding the type and variety of good people seek at the market, as well as other issues such as parking, restaurants and entertainment. The market, overflowing with shoppers every Saturday, is less busy the remainder of the week and is currently closed Sunday-Tuesday. It's easy to wish for more deli, pastry and produced food selections such as can be found at Cleveland's West Side Market, or for a more intimate neighborhood experience such as Findlay Market in Cincinnati – and both may be worthy goals.

West Side Market - Cleveland
{Cleveland's West Side Market is a paradise of meat and pastries}

If history is an indicator, change to the existing market will be difficult. While tempting to demand more local produce, dozens of farmer's markets have popped up across the St. Louis region in the past decade. Are shoppers going to travel to Webster Grove's to Soulard for the market, passing several others along the way? And to be sure, the bananas aren't from Potosi, but what's wrong with cheap bananas? Perhaps the variety of items available at Soulard, meats, spices, pets, Cardinal's hats, gallon cans of peanut butter, key chains, rug remnants (yeah, I've purchased a few there) make it more utilitarian. A few of the items on offer may be more suitable for a flea market, but it's not junk.

Soulard neighborhood - STL
{a view inside Soulard Market}

None of that makes Soulard less enjoyable to visit, or likely less successful as a market. The market's shortcoming is what surrounds it. There's the deadening gash of Interstate I-55 which precludes neighborhood activity or development of any kind to the west. The Soulard Market Lofts to the north provide customers, but also form a superblock that limits options. Two parks on the south side are underutilized and 7th Street gives the market a dead zone to the east as development along this important corridor has been abandoned. Instead of forming the main street of the neighborhood, the street is a cliff, vibrant market and neighborhood on one side and parking lots, warehousing and light industrial on the other.

Want to improve Soulard Market? Improve its surroundings. Add capacity for year-round indoor prepared food to the market by building on the east side of 7th Street, mimicking the market form to create a unified experience. Explore more active uses of park space and integrate the market with the neighborhood. In short, the area surrounding the market needs a development plan. The worst experience is leaving the market building and immediately realizing you're on an island, surrounded by a crushing pedestrian experience.

Soulard Market_changes
{yellow = development opportunity, orange = neighborhood corridors, blue = underutilized park}

findlay market_cincinnati
{Findlay Market – Cincinnati, photo courtesy of user ajknee on skyscrapercity.com}

findlay_market_plaza
{the small plazas and alleys may be Findlay Market's most appealing features}

In Cincinnati the physical experience is quite different. The historic buildings surrounding the market were not demolished and what's left are dense side streets and a alleyways that open on plazas, outdoor dining and the market itself. Place two-story retail along 7th Street in St. Louis and suddenly, the market is the anchor component of a more varied experience. Single-story strip mall development should never again be allowed here. So let's reexamine market hours, install some appealing lighting, splash some paint here and there, but don't forget that whatever is done, the future of the market will be largely dictated by what's done with adjacent development opportunities.

soulard starbucks_bread co
{the recent Starbuck's and St. Louis Bread Co. addition to Soulard (upper left) did nothing to enhance the pedestrian experience at the edge of one of the city's most walkable neighborhoods}

findlay market_cincinnati_2
{and aerial view of Cincinnati, Ohio's Findlay Market}

West Side Market - Cleveland
{an aerial view of Cleveland's West Side Market}

Soulard Market
{and aerial view of St. Louis, Missouri's Soulard Market}