Want to Improve Soulard Market? Improve Its Surroundings

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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}

{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}

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  • Soulard Farmer

    Soulard Market is an un-heated and un-air conditioned outdoor farmers market that is open 52 weeks a year and has survived for over 200 years because the vendors not only grow or buy their products wholesale themselves, they pick up and transport their products themselves, unload their products themselves, set their products up themselves, sell their products themselves, and then break down everything at the end of the day and then start over again the next day by themselves. This is what keeps the prices and quality at Soulard so good. At any other market across the country a vendor makes a call to a food service company, places an order without ever laying eyes on what they are ordering, it is then delivered to their air conditioned stall, and then sold by non family, minimum wage employees. All of which make the experience no different than buying from a grocery store and prices extremely high. That is also why these markets must rely so heavily on tourist dollars, special events like concerts, cooking demonstrations and have a look that caters to high end customer’s.

  • Shame on Alderwoman Young

    Everyone blames the vendors for the 1999 plan failing, but who better than the vendors to know what’s best for the market. The bottom line is that Soulard is doing better now then it was 10 years ago. Attendance is up, variety and product diversity are up. The market is currently turning a profit for the city. All signs that the market is on a upswing and should be nourished to continue to grow, not changing the market to be something it isn’t. For a good example, check out the Kansas City Market. It used to be one of the best markets in the country and it is now just trying to stay in business. They have an amazing location and management team, unfortunately the changes they made to the market made it less attractive to the customers and has been going downhill since it’s renovation.

  • Soulard Market Fan

    The biggest problem facing Soulard Market right now is that back in 1999 Alderman Phyllis Young and Peter Sortino from the Danforth Foundation were the two leading forces pushing for the renovation of the market. These two people represent a small uptight group of people that cannot appreciate Soulard Market for what it is. Unlike the other 95% of customers that shop the market, they would like to see the market sterilized and made into a tourist attraction that functions as a 7 day a week market. Currently Alderman Young is sponsoring a bill to have the city pay for another farmer’s market to be built just three blocks from Soulard Market, and both are very bitter about the 1999 plan falling through and have a personal score to settle against the market vendors. These two people currently sit on the steering committee that has been created to develop the new master plan for Soulard Market. If the city wants this plan to go through and cares about the future of Soulard Market then they should really consider getting rid of them.

  • Jimbo

    I couldn’t agree more with thoughts on 7th st, but Im not sure where you are gonna find a developer to build two story street revel retail there considering there are lots of opportunities for street retail in soulard proper, in historic buildings no less, one of the big draws of the area.  I will add that most of your complaints about soulard market have been echoed for years in Cincy and the Cleve, the two examples you used to show what SM could be.

  • Save Soulard Market!

    My family has sold at Soulard Market for over a century and I think it’s important to get out a few important facts.  It’s important to mention that many of the forces behind these renovations such as Soulard Alderman Phylis Young, and City Parks Manager Gary Bess do not even shop at Soulard Market nor do they want Soulard Market to be successful.  They are now supporting a new market in Soulard across from the old city hospital.  It’s very sad that our city has spent $250,000 for an outsourced survey to be conducted.  That money could do wonders for the Soulard Market but has been denied time and time again.  I find it strange that the City of St. Louis has only turned a profit in 2010 and has lost money before that.  Currently, over 90% is leased through the city, the market employs a minimum wage staff of 3 janitors and 1 part time market master.  In addition, parking meters are not free for Soulard Market any time but on Sunday’s. And don’t forget about the numerous parking ticket’s given Wednesday – Saturday for any non fed parking meter.  Where is all of the money generated by the Soulard Market going?  What the Market needs is ample FREE parking, security, clean bathrooms, routine maintenence and better management. 

  • Adam

    other than the concrete floors i like the aesthetic of the market the way it is. it would be nice if the concrete could be replaced with brick or tile or something with a little more historic character.

  • Rick

    One of the oddest things about the Soulard Market area is the way the big library building nearby can never sustain a successful business. I wonder what the problem is?

  • Downtown2007

    I think the whole ratio of resellers vs the local farmers is way overblown. There are more farmers than the perceptions leads us to believe. In addition, there is a strong market for the resellers being a high number of people attend every Sat for cheap produce and the experience so by eliminated the resellers would have an impact.

    I agree the area around the market could be improved. The parking
    It’s across 7th need building and 7th needs to be more ped friendly. If we want a major change then also add a building to the east end of the park fronting 7th that opens as a beer garden to the park.

    More bakers, specialty stores, artists, and ethnic stands would be a plus.

    I also think the market could benefit from some fancy signs and lighting created by artists to lighten the place up and create funky vibe would also help.

  • Joe2122

    An easy improvement: How about taking down the low fencing that makes Soulard Park a lot less conducive to foot traffic? 

    Removing the fencing and possibly allowing food or other vendor carts in the park would go a long way toward integrating the market and the rest of Soulard into a more walkable experience. Right now the park is complete dead space. Even benches for people who buy food at the market would be a big improvement.

    Some commercial properties fronting Lafayette on the South side of the park would be great too, but more of an undertaking. I think improvements in this direction are a lot more feasible than dealing with the chasm that is 7th Street.

  • WestCountyKidLivingInTheCity

    They need to close Carol St. on the weekends.  I like the idea of hiding the dumpsters.  They need to get more events in the courtyard, park, and upstairs.  I have worked at Soulard since I was 13 and my family has been there since it opened.  It sucks that a lot of the vendors dont like the idea of upgrading the market, but as time goes on new generations will take over family stands and I think that is when we will see a big change as long as we can all agree on how to go from here.

  • Malbrite10

    You forgot to mention the North parking lot. It should most certainly have a stall placed on the southern end to screen the parking. Dumpsters should be hidden behind artfully done screens, and, of course, lighting on all edges of the market would go a long way. I totally agree that the problem with the market is its edges, mainly the north and east sides.

  • marketstudy

    I worked on a study to improve the Soulard Farmer’s Market back in the 1990s (Yes, they have been trying to improve the market for that long).  During that experience, I found that the vendors to be completely unwilling to change how they conduct business.   If you notice in both examples, the vendors have to bring their goods into stalls whereas the vendors at Soulard get to pull their trucks right up to the stall.  When it was suggested to switch to bringing the goods to a stall, conversations competely shut down.  The Danforth study made the exact same recommendation, and again, it was shut down.    

    Granted, the east side of 7th street is not pedestrian-friendly, and 7th Street is currently designed to be the main transportation route between A-B and downtown.  That said, blaming 7th Street for the farmer’s market woes won’t fix the problem. 

    It really is the vendors that are the problem.       

    • Alex Ihnen

      What woes? I, and many others appreciate the market for what it is. I would love to see something more like Findlay or West Side, but not in place of Soulard, in addition to it.