Help us quantify the economic benefits of these community gathering places
Public markets are much more than quaint alternatives to grocery store chains; they can become popular multi-use destinations that contribute to local, sustainable economies.
One defining characteristic is that public markets feature local businesses that employ local people and, especially in the case of farmers markets, sell local products. Markets were historically social crossroads, places where the first towns and cities sprung to life. Today there are still vibrant community centers where friends and strangers mingle and meet. In fact, according to psychologist Robert Sommer, people enjoy sociable conversations four-and-half time more often at a farmers market than in a supermarket.
The Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan, founded in 1976, has become the flagship farmers market in the Greenmarket network, featuring up to 75 regional producers and 60,000 visitors daily during peak season. At the market’s beginnings, Union Square was home to less reputable businesses, and often drug dealers were the only people making money. Today, in no small part to the sustained presence and success of the Greenmarket, Union Square is an economic powerhouse in New York. According to an October 2009 New York magazine article, while storefront vacancies around the city have hit 10 percent, Union Square boasts vacancy rates of just 3.4 percent, and retail rental rates are now $300/square foot, prices once only commanded by Midtown and Soho locations. In the last five years alone, foot traffic has increased by 59 percent. Traditional retailers are not the only businesses contributing to this micro-economy. The Greenmarket pays over $99,000 in fees to the city for use of the space four days a week, and rough estimates report that the annual sales of Greenmarket are some $12 million annually. An annual holiday market, which operates from Thanksgiving through Christmas, and shares the square with Greenmarket, pays the city nearly $1 million in rent and brings in about $2.5 million in sales for its 100 vendors. Even the area’s falafel and hot dog vendors do well, reporting grosses of up to $60,000 a year.
So it is no surprise that the ability of markets to generate real economic growth is at the center of “FoodWorks New York,” an exciting new initiative recently put forth by Christine Quinn, speaker of New York’s City Council that proposes to take advantage of the local food system to improve health, protect the environment, and create sustainable jobs. The initiative calls for improved infrastructure for the city’s markets and an expansion and development of jobs in the city’s food industry, including supporting more market vendors. From a Placemaking perspective, it’s exciting to see a government official talk about creating jobs and economic opportunity within a local food system, especially in relation to the city’s network of public markets. And, we know that these public markets can be great economic generators for our communities based on our work to help revitalize the Moore Street Market in the troubled East Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Working with Bay Area Economics, we were able to conclude that, with market operation and design changes, as well as improvements in the surrounding market district, the Moore Street Market’s estimated direct and indirect economic impact would increase from $3.6 million to$5.7 million per year.
By working to strengthen the complex web of exchanges and interactions that go into producing, buying, transporting, selling, cooking, and consuming food, “FoodWorks New York” shows great potential to help keep the millions of dollars generated by these transactions in the New York region, creating place-based jobs that strengthen local communities.
Councilwoman Quinn’s vision of supporting New York’s public markets to create local, sustainable jobs aligns with research PPS conducted in 2002 with the support of the Ford Foundation. Our study “Public Markets as a Vehicle for Social Integration and Upward Mobility” details how markets offer a relatively inexpensive opportunity for entrepreneurs (especially minorities, immigrants, and women) to start their own businesses: 83% of vendors surveyed used personal savings to start their business and 54% spent $1,000 or less to start their business. By their very nature, public market jobs are place-based, and because becoming a market vendor often requires relatively little investment and risk, public markets foster the creation and growth of local businesses .
While farmers, crafters, artists and even flea market sellers want to tap into the opportunity a market can bring, many don’t know where to begin. To help foster more of these place-based businesses, PPS is excited to release How to Start Your Business at a Local Market: a Vendor Handbook (for a $15 PDF copy of this report, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org) which provides clear and concise guidance on how to determine what to sell, how to pick a market, manage your business, set up a stall, tips for customer service, advice on attracting repeat customers, and more. We hope that this tool will encourage more people to become market vendors, improving not only their well-being but the economic well-being of their entire community.
It’s obvious that public markets are great incubators for sustainable jobs and local businesses, but there’s a great need for research evaluating the full extent of their economic impact in quantifiable terms that make the case for greater government, foundation and civic support. And while there are some tools out there to help a market evaluate its economic impact, such as PPS/Econsult Corporation’s Estimating the Economic Impact of Public Markets and Marketumbrella.org’s The Sticky Economics Evaluation Deice (SEED). PPS believes that there is no better time than now for a comprehensive evaluation of public markets, big and small – rural and urban, to determine exactly how much markets contribute to our country’s economy.
Markets have never garnered as much attention and respect as right now. New York’s “FoodWorks” initiative and the White House Farmers Market are two high-profile examples illustrating how public markets are community destinations that support local businesses and create jobs while providing unlimited health and social benefits for the surrounding community.
PPS is calling for a national study on the economic impact of public markets, and we want your input. It’s relatively easy to count the number of jobs directly created by markets: even a quick glance down a row of market stalls is enough to see how many vendors are busy behind fruits and flowers. But what about the secondary ripple of jobs created and sustained by a public market; the complex web of interactions and relationships that are all in some way a part of this scene?
And we need your help in forming topics for this far-reaching economic study that quantifies the far-reaching economic benefits of markets. What do you need to know in order to help provide tangible evidence of your market’s valuable direct and indirect economic impact? Here are some of topics we’d like examined:
• The number of jobs created by a public market – directly and indirectly. These could include farmers, seasonal farm workers, market stall employees, market managers, and even seed salespeople.
• The economic impact on the businesses around the market.
• The economic benefit of participation in a public market for the farmer/producer’s business, including an understanding of their cost of production and the cost of their market operation.
• The economic impact on the participating farmers’ rural communities.
What else needs be evaluated? And how can this study take shape?
All of us—market advocates, developers and managers—would benefit from making compelling, hard data about the concrete, demonstrated economic benefits of markets widely available.
Please email your thoughts to email@example.com and indicate “Markets Economic Impact Study” in the subject line.