The market was built as one of numerous NYC “Public Markets” in 1941, in an effort to reduce the number of street peddlers and improve the health and sanitation associated with the purchase of consumer goods, especially food. Today, it is the only remaining market in Brooklyn. Despite a proliferation of farmers markets in NYC, this market has continuously served the local population since its inception with an array of fresh produce and other culturally oriented food products. Initially serving an Italian and Jewish first generation population, the market, like the community, became increasingly Latino-focused with a large
influx of primarily Puerto Ricans after World War II. Today, the community is a mix of Latinos from various Central and South American countries, mostly immigrants, but recent gentrification is once again changing its demographic profile. Several large Public Housing projects managed by the NYC Housing Authority ring the blocks surrounding the market were built in the 1950s, and this population, which will not be replaced by gentrification, is primarily African American and very low income.
Despite its history of continuous operation, the market suffered from lack of capital investment by the City, and rental income from the vendors did not cover basic operating costs. In 2007, the City of New
York issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for housing developers to tear down the market and replace it with a mixed-income development. At the height of NYC’s housing boom, the RFP attracted several developers. However, in a showing of community unison rarely seen in NYC, the merchants gathered thousands of signatures on a petition to save the market, and local elected officials put their weight behind its survival and
revitalization. Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) was invited in in mid-2008 to assume management of the market, and we signed a lease and management agreement with NYC in late 2008, with the understanding that we would attempt bring the market back to at least break-even.
BEDC has maximized the revenue-generating activities of the market to date, and made many long-overdue repairs to the building and equipment. We stabilized the merchants’ situation by switching them from month-to-month agreements to 3-year leases. We have raised over $2.2 million in City and Federal (HUD) funds for
capital improvements. But now these new assets must be exploited to establish the market as a sustainable business entity that not only supports its own expenses, but does so while providing opportunity and resources for the growth and development of the current and future vendors. The market should once again
become a community focus for job creation and entrepreneurship.
While the market has been successful at attracting capital funds, we have been less successful in attracting program operation funds. We have this asset, a 15,000 square foot building, with tremendous capacity and opportunity to anchor economic development in this community, but no staffing or structure to exploit
this opportunity. As the building improvements continue, more and more small businesses and community groups are asking about how they can utilize the market. These businesses and groups can be accommodated on an ad hoc basis, but some experiences over the past 4 years have taught us the value of planning for
success: two small businesses we helped establish in the market did not survive because they lacked the management skills and cash flow to withstand the first year of operations.
BEDC believes that the success of new businesses depends on hands-on technical assistance, which we have the knowledge to provide, but funds for that program have been dramatically reduced since 2009 (from $270,000 to $150,000). New funds will supplement the state and city funds for small business development,
which will in turn lead to the establishment of successful businesses at the market that can add jobs.
- Successfully lease out 5 new market spaces built with capital funds to vendors who can diversify market goods and services to reach a wider population/provide ongoing technical assistance to assure success of these businesses
- Establish a shared commercial kitchen where food entrepreneurs can become established (currently under construction, but not staffed)
- Establish a culinary job-training program to provide career opportunities for neighborhood at-risk youth aged 17-14 (no current budget, but a community partner identified)
- Plant and harvest a vacant lot adjacent to the market to not only grow food that can be sold there, but serve as a community as a health education program (we have the lot, but nothing else)
While it is possible that some of these objectives can be achievedwithout this funding (e.g. tenants can be found for the new spaces, the kitchen space can be rented out), others cannot. The culinary training program for at-risk young men cannot be implemented without administrative and training staff. The urban farm program cannot be administered solely by two farmers, who not only have to prepare the ground and tend the crops, but market and sell the produce as well.
These funds will allow us to do this project comprehensively and right, so that it is sustainable after your funds have been expended. Done separately, the components of the project may seem disjointed and connected only by a physical location. But, planning for the job creation potential for the market overall,
and integrating the projects, will yield a better program for the community.
Use of Funds
- Purchase all supplies for the Urban Farm -- raised planter construction materials; clean soil; used container for office and storage; pond supplies; farming tools; seed crops; etc. ($10,000)
- Provide subsidy to farmers to cover their costs through the first 6 months (pre-harvest) ($5,000)
- Create marketing campaign, including new website; branded materials; advertising budget ($10,000)
- Hire part-time market manager to oversee space rentals, and plan and produce market promotional events ($25,000)