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Poll: Support the Planned $14 Million Renovation of Soulard Market?

July 8, 2012 Farmers' Markets, Featured, Sunday Poll 45 Comments
ABOVE: Soulard Farmers’ Market

Over the years there has been talk of giving Soulard Market a top to bottom facelift but it hasn’t happened. Such talk is happening again:

The master plan for Soulard Market proposes spending as much as $14 million on improvements over the next several years. The report suggests that funding could come from grants and donations, a parks bond issue or a future parks tax. (see stltoday for plan details)

Some are excited by the idea and others say the charm will be designed out in the process. You can view the full plan here.

Share your comments below and vote in the poll in the right sidebar. Poll closes a week from today and results will be published on Friday July 20th.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "45 comments" on this Article:

  1. Brian says:

    They can do anything they want to the second floor and the park outside.  And setting clear hours, allowing SNAP, and expanding parking would all be great ideas.

    I HATE the garage doors idea.  If they want to install doors, they need to make use of period-appropriate doors, not glass-and-aluminum ones.  And what the heck was that architectural sin they shoehorned onto the endcaps?

  2. msrdls says:

    I’m wondering if the Soulard Farmers Market, as it’s currently structured,  can justifiably support a $14M renovation. In a previous life, our family often visited the original Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax in Los Angeles. There, you’d experience an “experience”–a destination where more than just fruits and vegetables are sold: restaurants, specialty shops, grocery stores, LOCALLY GROWN vegetables, even theater/public events venues. And while the current Fairfax market is much larger than the orginal, its expansions haven’t caused it to lose its original character. It’s simple; it’s clean; its displays/counters were designed for for easy and certain cleanup.   Soulard definitely needs to clean up their act (newer/cleaner restrooms, more remote/better concealed garbage retention areas, cleaner storefronts and refrigerated display cabinets where applicable (I’d be afraid to eat any meat or fish product sold from these storefront areas)–but no attempt should be made to put lipstick on the pig. “Filth” and “unsanitary-looking displays and serving counters” , absolutely FILTHY storefront glass should not be accepted as part of the  “local color” and therefore acceptable. But if you spend $14M, you gotta give the customers more than questionable-quality fruit purchased from Produce Row. I’ve visited Soulard Market 5 times in the two+ years I’ve lived here, and I’ve found there’s nothing there that makes me want to return. And one look at the typical customer tells me they are more interested in getting a good deal than they are in experiencing an “experience”. I’m fairly confident that  a $14M investment probably includes the fees of a well-connected construction management firm to oversee a renovation, something that BPS could easily accomplish on its own. Any renovation at Soulard should be done with an understanding that it is a market that caters mostly to the middle and lower-middle class, one that most certainly is needed in the city, but one that will survive only if it doesn’t try to become something that it isn’t, or worse, something that it should not become.

  3. Imran says:

    We should not be renovating for the lowest common denominator. There is a large population with means in the city. The Soulard market can and should be an experience for anyone who visits. It could be a tourist stop. People should want to live close to and bike to it. It should be a catalyst for its surroundings. There is untapped potential here.
    They should engage a firm which is familiar with historic additions and renovations. The current renderings look dated and cheap.

    • msrdls says:

      Construction management has little to do with “design”, but rather with “construction oversight”. If a CM gets involved with “design”, it’s usually because an owner has engaged the firm after being sold a bill of goods, and typicallly their “design” recommendations are as inept as their oversight capabilities. Anyone who can “design” or “build”, does so. Anyone who can’t, “oversees” those who do.

    • eric432432 says:

       There’s untapped potential in lots of places if you’re willing to invest $14m in them.

  4. moe says:

    Agreed Msrdls….Soulard Market is nothing compared to the great markets of other cities…San Fran, Boston, San Diego, even Kansas City.  The Market must be more than just fruit stands selling imported and re-purchased items from Produce Row.  It must be more than a flea market re-selling bargin bin incense.  It must be a community gathering place, something it has lost over the last 30 or 40 years. 

    • msrdls says:

      Soulard today is what it is, as it should be, in my opinion. As of today, it isn’t attempting to compete with LA, SF, SD and, for the most part with Kansas City. But if you commit $14M to improving the physical plant, they’d better be prepared to compete with the best of them!  You gotta sell a lot of turnips to retire the debt service on $14 M. When you’ve spent that much money, you’ll attract a higher-class vender but you’ll send many existing, faithful customers down the road to a different fruit market. 

  5. JZ71 says:

    The real unanswered question is what is the vision for or the role of the Soulard Market, today?  It certainly isn’t the same that it was 50 years ago, nor the same as it was when it first opened.  The neighborhood has changed and evolved, as has how people live their daily lives.  As others have noted, it’s not as exciting or relevant as the old markets in places like Seattle or Philadelphia.  But, to counter Imran, the Soulard Market already is “an experience for anyone who visits”, just not a very good one.

    It’s one thing to renovate / restore / modify / expand the existing structure, it’s a whole ‘nuther thing to create and maintain the appropriate tenant mix / retail experience to increase and sustain patronage to justify making a multi-million dollar investment.  Much like the Police Headquarters downtown, just because it’s old, doesn’t make it inherently good / worth the investment.  Are we better served with a central market, like this, open daily, or with more weekly farmers markets in various locations around the city / region?  Where is our money best invested?  It’s kind of like the food truck phenomenon – do we want the food to come to us, or do we want to go to the food?

    (I don’t have a strong opinion, either way, since I prefer supermarkets over either other option.  My only concern is using public resources wisely.)

  6. GMichaud says:

    Moe I’m not sure what you are talking about, Soulard Market is substantially the same as it was 30 or 40 years ago, if anything it was grittier then. You could buy live chickens, and the seller would put the chicken in the killing cone and butcher it right there on the spot in his stall for you. Or maybe you are talking about the old Soulard Market Bar on 9th street across from the northwest wing of the market? That was a gathering place full of diversity every market day. Now it is a sterile, corporate building. I don’t know what you mean.
    I hope they do maintenance and upgrades, new restrooms and such. Trying to get more farmers into the market would also be good, but I’m not sold on the garage doors, tearing down the bandstand and such. There is no real reason to make the market fru fru. Tourists by definition are not going to buy anything anyway. And you’ll never be able to do upgrades that will cause people from Ladue and Clayton or others of that ilk to come down and support the market regularly. Just let them go to their antiseptic chain stores in the suburbs. Let them get their real “experience” in Schnucks or Wal Mart.
    Soulard Market is successful now and has been for awhile. The city cleaned up the old Union Market downtown to the extent that it no longer exists and is now part of a hotel.
    That is always the danger, what makes Soulard Market unique is lost to the corporate wolves.

    • Moe says:

      What I mean is that the Market has been stagnant.  No growth whatsoever.  There is still the “pet stand” there if you want to buy a live chicken, but no one to kill it on the spot…and that is more due to health regulations in place today than in the past.  But irregardless, over the past 10 years we have seen Farmer’s Markets boom.  Look at Maplewood and Tower Grove’s.   I haven’t been to Maplewoods this year, but at TGroves, you have local grown produce, various meats, beverage and sandwich sellers, as well as free yoga classs and musical entertainment.  THIS is what Soulard should be doing.  We’ve had a market for over 100 years, and like any business sometimes does, they’ve settled into a rut where they wasted the opportunity to be the leader. 
        Then compared to other cities, and Soulard isn’t even the same ballpark.  And that’s the point GM, tourist may not buy groceries for a week, but they sure can buy artwork, crafts, a bag of peaches to snack on, etc. 
        And don’t take Clayton and Ladue to task.  In this regard I do support the opposite view you have of them.  They know what a farmers market is, just like soulard residents, Dutchtown residents, etc….MANY people think a tomato grows into a green styro tray and that is not limited to income levels.  But look at the successes of community gardens popping up all over the area, in and out of the City.  There is an awakening of local/urban farming.  Soulard has squandered the opportunity to lead….teach people WHY local is better.  Partner with those community gardens to offer a booth for selling excess produce.  The ideas are endless.
        So I disagree that SMarket is successful now.  It is treading water, stuck in the past, satisfied to collect the rent checks without putting much effort into giving the tenants reasons to pay higher rents to pay for those upgraded bathrooms, etc. As well as satisfied with the customers they have now.
        Sure there are plenty of customers there that go to get produce thinking it is fresher or local…but we know otherwise, and that again is a teaching moment.  If they loose a vendor that just hops down to Produce row and buys imported Mexican tomatoes and resells them (either as homegrown or honestly as Mexican tomatoes) and replace them with a true local farmer that has grown their own, can explain why their tomatoes are better than the stand next door….and at the same or higher rent…then who is the looser?  To me, the Market AND the customer win.
        Soulard is PRIME real estate…stuck right between downtown and the Brewery.  How many out of towners visit AB when staying at a downtown hotel???  This is where we need a trolly (to pull in Steve’s other posts).  Trolly from the Adams Mark or Hilton or Union station to the brewery, making sure a stop at the Market is on the list…and not traveling down the sterile broadway….but detour through the Soulard/laffeyette neighborhoods…show off St. Louis’s vibrant neighborhoods….get them to want to go back for lunch or dinner (and supporting other local businesses).  Get them to spend money in town and want to go home and rave about St. Louis. And if we can do this for tourist, what will the rub off be for us locals?

      That is the potential Soulard Market has wasted and maybe able to recapture.  The question is, is it worth 14 million?

      • GMichaud says:

         First of all Soulard Market stages more events and activities than all of the other markets in the region combined. No yoga of course, but there is food, music, festivals etc. By your criteria, Schnucks and all of the other supermarkets are also stagnant, not only that businesses such as movie theaters and pharmacies are all stagnant since their method of delivery has not changed much over the decades.
        First and foremost Soulard Market sells produce to customers, it is not an entertainment venue, it does not exist to make sure suburbanites feel like they have a “real experience” It is a purveyor of produce and related food and farm products first and foremost.
        I’m not saying there cannot be a better job of presenting the market to the public and I believe the number of farmers should be increased if at all possible, but catering to tourists or suburbanite prejudices is pretty low on the list of what the market should do with any investment.
        Strategically I would prefer to see money spent on maintenance and obvious upgrades and forget tearing down the bandstand, adding garage doors and so on and spend the balance of the money, say on building a permanent market structure of some type for Old North St. Louis for instance.
        Soulard has a steady and successful customer base that more than likely will continue to be stable (especially with modest improvements) and it could allow the city to improve and help reclaim another section of the city.
        I would also like to point out that the often maligned produce row actually gets their produce for the same or similar producers as the major grocery stores. Produce is perishable and there are vendors that sell produce near the end of the usefulness, but if you know produce, you deal with it and use it immediately. It is no different than buying dated produce from a Schnucks discount bin. There are some farmers that supplement their presentation and income with produce from Produce Row also. Allen Schraf, one of the vendor reps for the Soulard Market study is one.
        I agree with you leadership of some sort for slow food or a local food movement would be great for Soulard Market and the region. But to me the first order of business is to make sure your current customer base is secure. Outreach efforts require a different approach that the 14 million budget does not take into account.

        Actually if you look closely at agriculture in general you would see the St. Louis has ignored potentially prosperous connections for years. The World Sheep Festival in Bethel Missouri and the connections to wool and fashion for instance. (The festival has been going on for around 30 years) As close as Bethel is to St. Louis, St. Louis might as well be on Mars given the lack of entrepreneurial vision.
        To me the essential problem is make sure City Government avoids screwing up Soulard Market like they have already screwed up the rest of the City over the past 60 years.

        • Shabadoo says:

          soulard doesn’t need to be be “re-claimed” whatever the f*ck that means.  Its a growing neighborhood with a lot going on.  If re-claimed means re-claiming it for white people, too late; why do you think they call it “the island”?

          • GMichaud says:

             You misunderstand what I said, it is not Soulard I was talking about, but the Northside, and maybe reclaim isn’t the right word, I mean that a new market structure for the Near North would contribute to revitalization efforts by helping to reestablish the community.
            And where the f*ck does the racism come from, it must be in your head.

          • Shabadoo says:

            “Soulard has a steady and successful customer base that more than likely will continue to be stable (especially with modest improvements) and it could allow the city to improve and help reclaim another section of the city.” sounds like you are talking about soulard to me.  I was just guessing what you meant by reclaim, terms like “reclaim a neighborhood” or “gentrification” are often code for white people moving in.

        • Ted says:

          Received an email from Dierbergs today!  Check out their recent ad!  Mike and Chuck Ochs, Ochs Melon Company, Perryville, MO delivers fresh produce daily to Dierbergs, and it arrives within 24  hours after it is removed from the fields.  I suspect that, at SM, it sits 24 hours on the truck between field to Produce Row delivery, then another 24 hours on the truck between Produce Row to SM delivery.

          • GMichaud says:

             Well shop at Dierbergs then, who cares?

          • Moe says:

            Wow…I guess we know now which one only cares about the price of their tomatoes and not the quality.  When you can’t convince them, you just dismiss them.  Way to go GM.

    • msrdls says:

      “ILK”???? Interesting term to refer to those of us who live in Clayton. I live on a street  12 houses: 5 Asian families, 4 Jewish families, 3 of us American hillbillies. I wonder what “collective” ilk we belong to.  But I digress…..

      I avoid Soulard only because I can purchase fresher, more flavorful fruit and vegetables at Schnucks or Dierbergs. And at Schnucks and Dierbergs, I don’t have to be watchful of the attendant placing the rotton fruit and vegetables  in the bottom of the bag!

      • GMichaud says:

         Pretty amazing you can get vegetables and fruit fresher than picked the previous day, sold by the farmer who picked it, especially considering the bulk of the produce in supermarkets is from Mexico and California.
        I have been shopping at Soulard many years and if I don’t pick the fruit or veggies I want they ask which ones I want or hand me a bag to put them in. You say you have been to Soulard 5 times, you must not have spent much time at the Market given the misinformation you are presenting.
        By ilk I was speaking of the outer suburban communities and how useless it was to redesign Soulard Market for those in the suburbs (and tourists) since few, if any would support the Market anyway, say, just like you.

        • Moe says:

          GM…with all the past complaints about City management and vision, I’m surprised that you would think that because SM has a stable base, they are doing ok.  I disagree. For while you want to retain the current base because it is secure, I say poppycock.  There will always be a customer base that doesn’t care if their produce comes from Schnucks, Shop n Save, Mexico, or the best Organic Market in St. Louis.  They don’t know, don’t care. (but for the record, I am all too familiar with Produce row, produce marketing, and grading standards).  This customer base you call on, will only be loyal until a farmer’s market opens up in their neighborhood and they can get their produce cheaper while driving only a block.
          That isn’t very secure if you have to worry about the next market opening up.  And a peak at their books and I would bet the overall sales at SM have remained stagnant yet those at TG,  Maple., Kirkwood, etc are increasing.  Increasing!!!
            But I digress.  If you think it is a secure base, then thats fine and dandy…but why be secure?  Why not strive for better?  Shoot for the Chesterfield people that want an experience, and hey, if you fall short and only get people from Shrewsbury…then you are still better off.  Aim high, end in the middle, but don’t stay stagnant.
            And this leads to the other segments….entertainment, tourists, a neighborhood link, etc.  THIS is how other major markets in big Cities have been successful…by reinventing themselves.

          • GMichaud says:

             It is amazing the speculative lengths you go to to maintain your negative views of Soulard Market. So you know exactly why everyone shops at the Market, and you know sales figures of all of the other farmers markets. It must be nice being God.
            I’m saying that that there is a solid customer base for Soulard Market right now and upgrades should not chase them away.  It would a pretty stupid business plan to ignore your current customer base while trying reach customers far out of the community you serve and who will likely never be regular customers.
            You try to put words into my mouth, I never said don’t try for better, I just said a reasonable business approach is to take care of your current customer base first.

        • Moe says:

          And actually GM, the produce you get in Diebergs, Schnucks, and even Shop n Save can indeed be better than the produce you find at Soulard Market.  Those major chains have contracts and bids in place.  Their produce comes in refrigerated, gets tags specifically for them, then goes out, and usually within 12 hours.  Once in the store, it is checked over when it is received, when it is stocked, and again throughout the day and as restocking is needed it is rotated.

          On the other hand….Mr fake farmer at Soulard, either calls up the day before or that moning and places an order, it gets filled by what is on hand. So if some restaurant gets their order in first…well, the later that farmer places his order, the less there is to fill it from.  And the same goes for if he went down there and picked it out…(and most produce vendors only allow ‘certain’ chefs or large acounts actually into their coolers to hand pick)….Then he travels down to Soulard picks it up and transport it…usually in an uncooled truck, were it sits either in that same truck or on the display rack.  And how many of those market stands have misters like they have in the grocery stores? 

          Is this the modus operandi for all the produce vendors at Soulard?  No.  But enough of them.

          • Moe says:

            Ooops…meant the produce vendor travels down to Produce Row to pick it up, and then transport it down to Soulard.  Sorry.

          • GMichaud says:

             I personally buy locally grown food from area farmers at Soulard Market. The point is the both the chain grocery stores and produce row are part of the corporate food chain, with veggies and fruits picked before prime, breed for shipping and handling and long keeping abilities, not for taste. Sounds like you shop in the chain stores, I never have seen misters at any farmers markets.

          • JZ71 says:

            To each, their own.  There’s no question that SM has deferred maintenance.  The only questions are how much to spend, where to spend it and whether (or not) it should come directly from,rents and fees and/or if it should be subsidized with/from tax revenues?  (And I’m not saying that chains don’t get public subsidies, they absolutely do.  The only question is if $14M is the “right” number to spend here?)

          • GMichaud says:

             As I said in another post, strategically I would spend less on Soulard Market and use the balance to build a permanent public market structure elsewhere, for instance in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood to support its community revitalization (and its already existing public market). I agree $14M may not be the right number to spend here.

          • Moe says:

            Exactly GM…farmer markets and SM do not have misters.  Produce sections in the grocery stores do indeed take better care of their produce at times.   Re-read my posts and more importantly don’t jump to conclusions about where I or Msr get our produce.  Your judgemental attitude is what is holding this City back.

            For the record, I’m not God, but I know a darn lot about food production and specifically about produce.  I never said to ignore current customers.  I did say that you will always have a select group that could care less where their tomato came from.

            But as Imran posted very early….why do we want SM to settle for the lowest common denominator?  Why not shoot for the stars?  In other words.  Why can’t SM shoot to be the best tomato seller?  ON a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the best….shoot for #1, settle for #3 or 4, but don’t ever settle for being #10.

        • msrdls says:

          Oh, Ouch, I guess. Or maybe not.

        • msrdls says:

          I confess. I’m double parked on 7th Street, and I send the “help” to purchase the fruit and vegetables. I give them exact change so they don’t steal from me. 

        • msrdls says:

          Dierbergs definitely has the best produce. Read their ads!   Plus, the “help” tell me so when they return to the house after they’re done shopping. 

          • Shabadoo says:

            Dierbergs has decided not to invest a single dollar in the city of st. louis, so I wont spend a single dollar there

          • msrdls says:

            I have to respect their business decisions, since Dierbergs is obviously a very successful food merchanidiser.  It would appear that Walmart operates similarly.  But both companies are in it for the money, and lots of potential customers live in the city.  I wonder if there’s a reason behind their decisions?  But county residents need grocery stores, too, especially since the produce at SM is often stale and soft!

          • Dierberg’s also refuses to support or even accept Metrolink. The connection to the Metrolink station next to the Brentwood store is ridiculous. I still shop at this store because I use this Metrolink stop every Saturday for another reason. But as a customer, I would like some improvements. There is a sustainability conference for the midcounty suburbs July 17, where transportation will be discussed. I plan to bring this up.

            I also find it ironic that a sustainability conference is being held at the “Center of Clayton” building on Gay Ave. which is the least transit accessible location the organizers could have picked in Clayton.

          • msrdls says:

            Cheryl: What do you mean that  it is “ridiculous”? How can a train station be “ridiculous”? (Does only 1 train out of 4 per hour stop there; do they just “slow down” forcing you to jump off; is there no lighting?) Don’t understand!

          • What I meant is that you have to walk a long distance   back along the tracks and then return up again to get to what should be some  short distance of steps leading directly up to Dierberg’s and the shopping center.   I would say you have to walk a quarter mile.  Also, there is no public sidewalk provided once you step off Metro property and not even a shoulder to walk on. It is quite dangerous. That’s why it is ridiculous. 

          • msrdls says:

            Thank you for the explanation. Guess I could have figured it out myself if I had thought about it.  (????) (I didn’t realize there is a Metro stop located in the area.)

          • JZ71 says:

            Dierberg’s “refusal” to “support or even accept Metrolink” was done for very pragmatic reasons – they didn’t want lazy commuters parking in their parking lot and leaving their cars all day.  They didn’t want to have to tow these cars and deal with the fallout, so they made it difficult to walk between the parking lot and the station, not so much to make it difficult to walk between the station and the store.  Yes, there are unintended consequences, but Dierberg’s is not in the business of providing free parking to transit users.

          • That Dierberg did not want an easy connection to its store from the Brentwood Metrolink to prevents Metrolink patrons from using their parking lot is a statement I have heard many times.  However, if every store with a parking lot made it difficult to get there by Metrolink,  then what good would Metrolink be?  I know the Metrolink stations were built on existing rail infrastructure and this is very limiting.  But the Brentwood station, had a good opportunity to provide easy access to shopping, but was stymied by the surrounding stores. Not just Dierbergs. 

          • JZ71 says:

            You may think that it’s “ridiculous”, but RTD went through the same battles in Denver when they were constructing light rail along I-25, south of downtown.

            Example 1:  Park Meadows Mall (comparable to West County Mall here) objected to any direct connection between the light rail platform (center of photo) and their parking lot (left side), leaving RTD to construct parking and bus bays on the east side (right side) of the freeway, connected by a pedestrian bridge.  However, after the line opened, the mall realized the error of their ways, and paid to construct a direct connection (shown with a short bridge):  https://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ll=39.561968,-104.871599&spn=0.002322,0.003449&t=k&z=18

            Example 2:  The residents of the single-family subdivision (on the left) wanted no connection to the station, so the ONLY access is via a tunnel under the freeway, to the park-and-ride lot (on the right)!:  https://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ll=39.648533,-104.915955&spn=0.00116,0.001725&t=k&z=19

            The unfortunate reality is that any transit agency is more focused on getting projects completed and open than they are battling adjacent landowners for access.  (There’s no real functional reason for Metrolink to be buried in a tunnel under Forest Park Parkway between Hanley and Big Bend, at great cost, other than politics.)  In retrospect, Dierberg’s probably had, and still has, no real need to limit access to/from the Brentwood Station, since ample parking remains available in Metro’s parking structure.  Unfortunately, neither Dierberg’s nor Metro seem very motivated to make any changes now that the project is “complete” . . . .

          • Moe says:

            Well I’m not disputing you JZ, we have strayed.  Cheryl is right in that Dierbergs has long refused to invest in beyond River Des Peres…and this goes back to the late 70s…and perhaps back then they may have had reason, but we’ve come a long way since then….yet they still will not place a store in the City limits.  And hence I won’t patronize them

          • Shabadoo says:

            thanks god, we need more people in the city to vote with their pocket book.  city folk gotta stop driving out to brentwood boulevard and blowing a big chunk of their paycheck 

          • msrdls says:

            Why do you suppose Dierberg’s and others will not locate in the City?

          • Shabadoo says:

            i don’t care, i’ll continue to not support such businesses 

          • msrdls says:

            Why, do you suppose, Dierberg’s and others will not locate in the City?

  7. Moe says:

    Although to bring us back on target……GM does have a point…not in taking SM money and putting it elsewhere….but that we could do both…renovate Soulard Market to be a leader (I still think they should be) AND build a new market…SOULARD 2 up north…it will help destry the food desert and if McKee’s little project fails, perhaps we should revert to farming up north.  Many older cities are reverting their neglected neighborhoods back into farmland….how cool would that be?  Soulard 2 or maybe a few Eckerts?????  Just some thoughts.


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