Cooperation from Mother Nature has sped up the timetable for the Rochester Public Market’s long-anticipated $8 million makeover.
“Right now we’re six weeks or so ahead of schedule, but that could change with a couple snowstorms,” market director Jim Farr says. “We’re shooting for late spring, very early summer to have the project just about completed.”
Despite demolition, new construction, business relocation and other complexities, the project has moved along without notable hiccups and looks poised to become an important chapter in the market’s history.
“Both the former Winter Shed building and the restaurant kiosks were not only past their useful lifespan, but also needed really some major upgrades to meet all the current codes and regulations,” Farr says.
Now in its 112th year on North Union Street, the market reached one of its makeover milestones with the opening of the new “D” Shed this fall. Built to resemble the structure that stood roughly on the same footprint from 1905 to 1963, the shed boasts 46 vendor stalls and has been temporarily enclosed while plans to build a 13,000-square-foot Winter Shed, or “B” Shed, push ahead.
With BLM Construction Co. as the general contractor and LeChase Construction Services LLC as the construction manager, the market is slated to have improved energy efficiency and architectural harmony. Plans call for the Winter Shed to be naturally lit and made mostly of glass and brick, in stark contrast to the concrete Winter Shed that was demolished earlier this year.
Other changes triggered by construction include the temporary relocation of the market’s four stand-alone food stands. The businesses, including Juan and Maria’s Empanada Stop, have set up shop in boxcar-shaped shipping containers near the market’s North Union Street entrance.
Funding for the market’s improvements has come from various sources: $2 million from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, $2 million from the New York State Regional Economic Development Council, and $500,000 from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York. City of Rochester capital dollars and bonds have provided the remaining $3.5 million.
Construction at the market was supposed to begin last year, but bids came in $2 million over the city’s estimate. Rebidding the project last January got it back on track and led to a groundbreaking ceremony in April.
Founded at the west end of the Main Street Bridge in 1827, the Rochester Public Market then moved to the Genesee River’s east side, between the Andrews Street Bridge and the Sister Cities Pedestrian Bridge, before relocating to its current site in 1905. Though lively interaction among vendors, farmers and everyday shoppers is now part and parcel of its scene, the market was a wholesale operation that did not begin selling directly to consumers until 1913. Most of the first shoppers were Italian and Jewish immigrants with an appetite for fresh produce.
Affection for the market continues to run deep despite rumblings in decades past that it would close. In 2010, the market won the large-market award of the America’s Favorite Farmers Markets contest in an annual event sponsored by the American Farmland Trust, beating the second-place finisher and 2009 champion—Davis (Calif.) Farmers Market—by nearly 2,400 votes.
Ongoing improvements at the market have dovetailed with other recent changes, including the July debut of a new center where food-stamp recipients can redeem their benefits for wooden tokens that function as market currency. Made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the token center is now housed in a shipping container.
“It is a dream come true because it provides three walk-up windows for customers, so our customers don’t have to stand in a crowded line in the market office,” says Margaret O’Neill, program director of the Friends of the Rochester Public Market, the volunteer organization that runs the token program. “We are able to keep the lines moving very quickly because we have enough volunteers who are staffing the windows.”
Nearly 7,300 unique customers bought $624,000 in tokens last year using food stamps, otherwise known as SNAP benefits, making the program the most successful of its kind in the country. The program is expected to handle more than $700,000 in redemptions this year.
“So, it’s a wonderful benefit for the community, particularly those customers who have SNAP benefits,” O’Neill says. “It also brings in that much additional money to the market farmers and vendors because that was money they were not receiving in the past. And so that, I would say, is probably the biggest impact. It’s not specifically part of the renovation, but it coordinated with the renovation—having this new token center.”
Plans to include a food-demonstration kitchen in the Winter Shed are ideal, O’Neill adds, for Flavors of Rochester at the Market, an annual series that runs on Saturdays from May through September.
“That won’t be ready until next summer, but we are greatly looking forward to that,” she says.
Once it transitions from an enclosed structure to an outdoor space, the new D Shed will provide more room for Artist Row, a juried art show organized annually by the Friends of the Rochester Public Market, O’Neill says.
Though he has shopped there since 1985, David Silver recently strengthened his bond to the market by becoming a volunteer for the Friends group. On Saturdays he is charged with helping food-stamp recipients cash in their benefits for tokens.
“I’m addicted to the market,” says Silver, former associate superintendent of Rochester City Schools. “I’m one of those people who goes 52 weeks a year.”
Sheila Livadas is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
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