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The Heartlands’ Public Markets are Always in Season

Public markets have been around for hundreds of years but seem to have been more prevalent in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Now there is a push to revamp old markets or develop new ones across the country.

Check out these public markets that not only offer nostalgia from years past but also integrate the diversity and excitement of the present in America’s Heartland.

Fulton Street Farmers Market

Grand Rapids, Michigan

The Fulton Street Farmers Market is celebrating its 97th year. Started in 1922, the market was one of four public markets that thrived at the time.

Fulton Street managed to outlive the other three markets in the same location where it was originally founded, said Rori Weston, market manager and executive director for the market. It operates year-round.

Farmers markets aren’t just about fresh produce anymore. Fulton Street features meat and dairy vendors, homemade tortillas, root vegetables, craft booths and greenhouse-grown fresh produce even during the winter months.

“Even in the dead of winter, you can still shop super local and get your basic needs at the farmers market,” Weston said.

The market takes up a full city block. The huge open-air pavilion has 118 stalls, and a small head house that is enclosed can house another 10 vendors. During the winter, the head house and the first two sections of the pavilion are enclosed and heated.

The market sees 7,000 visitors on a busy Saturday during peak season. It also works closely with food assistance programs in the city.

“We are advocates to make food accessible to all income levels. We do quite a bit of that here,” Weston said.

Milwaukee Public Market


The Milwaukee Public Market opened its doors in 2005. Project planners envisioned the market as an economic catalyst for Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward, providing a different food-shopping experience to both city and regional customers, said Paul Schwartz, executive director of the market.

The Third Ward is in a hot spot, adjacent to the freeway, with a large neon sign that is a “great welcome to the city,” he said. “The freeway is the great divide between the Third Ward and downtown. Now the market is able to bridge the gap and have people cross through there, which was one of its original purposes as well.”

The market offers many types of ethnic cuisine, including Middle Eastern, Thai and Hispanic, but also offers the beer, cheese and sausages for which the region is known. It even has a vegan vendor that serves only plant-based offerings.

An outdoor market takes place during the summer months and features local farmers, artists and craftspeople, musicians, photographers, jewelry-makers and vendors of other items produced locally.

In 2018, the public market had 1.8 million visits and north of $18 million in sales, Schwartz said. The market gives visitors a great introduction to Milwaukee’s culinary scene and offers cooking classes in its state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen.

The market partners with the Milwaukee Public Library and children’s groups by hosting events or fundraisers that benefit them.

North Market

Columbus, Ohio

Back in the 1800s, there were four public markets in central Ohio. The North Market, which opened in 1876, is the only one left. Surprisingly, it still sits on its original footprint, even though it is on its third building.

Now run by a nonprofit organization, the North Market is advantageously situated next door to the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

The area has seen a lot of growth over the years, and the North Market, an “urban pioneer of this neighborhood,” has survived and continues to be a destination, said Rick Harrison Wolfe, executive director for the North Market Development Authority.

Rather than knocking the market down to pave the way for new development, Columbus’ administration realized the importance of the last remaining public market, Harrison Wolfe said. The North Market features 35 merchants that sell a variety of foods, including fresh produce, meat, fish and cheese. They also sell flowers, spices, bread, olive oil and vinegars, hot sauce and salsa, doughnuts, pretzels, waffles, ice cream, beer and wine.

The market is in the midst of building a $192 million mixed-use development that, when completed, will comprise 11,000 square feet of additional market and mixed-use space, along with a high-end hotel and residential and office space. The North Market is also expanding into a second location 20 miles away in Dublin, Ohio, that will offer 25,000 square feet of market space.

The new location “further enhances our mission of incubating and supporting local business,” Harrison Wolfe said.

Between 1.5 million and 2 million people visit the market annually, which is “pretty great for us and the city,” he said.

Historic City Market

Kansas City, Missouri

In downtown Kansas City, very close to the river, the Historic City Market is the “crown jewel of downtown,” said Sue Patterson, the market’s director of marketing and events. The market is part of a larger district called River Market and encompasses more than 30 shops, restaurants and specialty grocers that are open year-round. It also hosts the largest farmer’s market in the region on weekends.

“We are the most diverse spot in Kansas City,” she said. “All kinds of languages are spoken here. You’ll see a very wide variety of international cuisines represented by our restaurants and our farmers market vendors from all over the world.”

Exotic produce, such as squash blossoms, bitter melon and water spinach, are sold next to more traditional Midwestern fare such as corn and tomatoes.

Prepared foods, distilled spirits, wine and craft beer, crafts and other locally made products are also available at the market. The Historic City Market tries to keep things fresh by offering special events throughout the year, including a vintage sale for used items, car shows, a local artist showcase and a Grub Crawl, where attendees buy a passport to dine so they can sample foods from the market’s many vendors while listening to live music.

Midtown Global Market


The Midtown Global Market is unusual in that it takes up the bottom level of an abandoned Sears building on Lake Street in Minneapolis.

The area around the market became crime-ridden once the Sears and other reputable businesses left the area. The city of Minneapolis wanted to change that, so it put out a request for proposals for projects in the area that would embrace and celebrate Minneapolis’ diversity, said Elisa Pluhar, chief development and communications officer for the Neighborhood Development Center.

The Midtown Global Market was a partnership between both the private and public sectors and nonprofits. It opened in 2006, just before the recession hit.

“There were definitely some times of us not really being sure what was going to happen, but we have come out on the other side of that and become a worldwide destination, which is crazy to us,” Pluhar said. “We get a ton of tour groups and people from all over the world [that] want to experience it. It is a big destination for people who live here as well. It really embraces the vibe of Minneapolis and the Twin Cities, really embracing the newer immigrant communities and celebrating that culture.”

More than 20 different languages are spoken at the market, which features about 18 food vendors; shops specialize in everything from African arts and crafts to Hmong clothing and a Mexican convenience store.

The goal of the market is to incubate businesses, to give them a place to start without the added costs that come with a bricks-and-mortar location.