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Eastern Market Rebuilding

The city’s oldest civic center is becoming new again, with the restoration of the old. The place where hundreds of people have come for fresh produce, meats, cheeses, nuts, and spices – and where farmers have connected with retailers – for over 100 years is being revived. Its sheds are being renovated, one even winterized, and the one square mile area is evolving from a produce warehouse district with weekend pedestrian shoppers to an urban theme park with street performers, music and round the clock sparkle.

Eastern Market represents perhaps Detroit’s most enduring and consistent common ground, where local residents and people from throughout Southeastern Michigan mingle and enjoy the fruits of urban living. Located on the northern edge of downtown, between I-75 and the Detroit Greenway, Eastern Market is a destination for city residents as well as those living in far-flung suburbs. About 45,000 metro Detroiters spend their Saturdays at "the market." Around 150,000 people attend Flower Day.

The wholesale and retail business environment has not only survived, but in many respects it has prospered. The market is comprised of over 30 produce warehouses – several of them open to the public – and 28 meat packing and distribution companies. A market study indicates that there’s room for another 40 businesses in the area, including restaurants, according to Kate Beebe, former president of Eastern Market Corporation (Dan Carmody took for the Eastern Market's Presidency in November 2007). There are 12 restaurants, seven serving breakfast. The most notable are the historic Roma Cafe and Bert's Marketplace, also one of the city's best jazz clubs. Nearby Gratiot Central Market is a market within the market, offering a diverse array of meat, produce, and specialty items. Shops like R. Hirt Jr., offering imported cheese and specialty grocery items, Rafal Spice, Cost Plus Wine Shop and Rocky Peanut are examples of the diverse retail offerings in the market.

Coming soon: 24/7 district

For years, artists and others seeking alternative urban living have found the charm of Eastern Market's loft living desirable. More than 100 people currently live in the market area. Beebe believes there’s room to develop hundreds of new housing units – from single family homes to adaptive reuse of old warehouse buildings. The one thing this community does not need to worry about is its elementary school – Edison Public School Academy was named one of Gov. Granholm’s "Blue Ribbon Exemplary Schools." The school current provides Kindergarten to 8th grade, but Beebe says there are plans to extend the school.

"We have the school," she says. "Now we're going to grow the community around it and the market."

With a larger residential and "tourist" population, there will be room for more restaurants and entertainment venues. Eastern Market isn’t just for farmers anymore. Beebe points out non-food-related businesses, like the Detroit Film Center, architect and law offices, and entertainment venues are among the businesses that have taken root in this environment. In fact, work is under way to transform Eastern Market into a 24/7 district that is both a community unto itself and a more vital regional destination.

The Eastern Market Corporation is focusing on three levels of investment opportunity:
• Developing its historic, core businesses – connecting farmers with markets and promoting vendor leases for small businesses. Local producers such as the Detroit Agriculture Network and community farms will be encouraged to sell their produce. Eventually, Shed 3 will be winterized, creating a market within a market where prepared foods and plants will be sold year-round;
• Market-related businesses such as produce wholesalers, meat processors, and other food-related businesses;
• Community housing and businesses "generated by the scene" to serve the needs of a growing residential population, or businesses that see the "cool" environment as fertile for growth.

Making the market more competitive

Planning is underway to gain community consensus and link city priorities with those of Eastern Market Corporation. "It will be a lot easier when we have a shared plan with the city that sets a vision for the larger area," Beebe says. "If you are an individual business owner or a housing developer and you know what's going to go on around you, it's much more encouraging for investment."

Key updates, improvements, and changes at Eastern Market that are taking place include:
• Short-term closure and renovation of Shed 2, which will be restored to its original 1894 appearance;
• Renovation of Shed 5, including a glass extension that will create a "flowerland" allowing more attractive space for selling plants;
• Weatherizing Shed 3 and 4 into a year-round facility;
• The implementation of a program that allows people on public assistance and food stamps to use their benefits at Eastern Market;
• Increased emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables to make the market more competitive;
• Creating a festive environment for market day, including street performers, and emphasizing special days such as Flower Day, Harvest Festival, and the Christmas holiday tree/wreath sale; 
• Walking tours of historic sites in the market district;
• And, finally, establishing the Friends of Eastern Market, a membership organization that will raise funds to help offset the cost of facility improvements.




Directions to Eastern Market

From the East:
Take I-94 West and merge onto I-75 South/Chrysler Fwy via Exit 216A toward Toledo. Continue to Exit 52 toward Mack Ave., stay straight to go onto Chrysler Dr. and turn left onto Wilkins St. Turn right onto Chrysler Dr and turn left onto Russell St., arrive in Eastern Market.

From the North:
Take I-75 South. Continue to Exit 52 toward Mack Ave., stay straight to go onto Chrysler Dr. and turn left onto Wilkins St. Turn right onto Chrysler Dr and turn left onto Russell St., arrive in Eastern Market.

From the West:
Take I-96 East and merge onto I-75 North via the exit on the left toward Flint. Continue to the M-3/Gratiot Ave Exit 51B on the left. Turn slight right onto Gratiot Ave and then turn right onto Russell St. Arrive in Eastern Market.

From the South:
Take I-94 East toward Detroit and merge onto I-96 East/Jefferies Fwy via Exit 213B toward Canada. Continue to I-75 North via the exit on the left toward Flint. Take the M-3/Gratiot Ave Exit 51B on the left. Turn slight right onto Gratiot Ave and then turn right onto Russell St. Arrive in Eastern Market.

Take 1-75 North toward Detroit. Continue to the M-3/Gratiot Ave Exit 51B on the left. Turn slight right onto Gratiot Ave and then turn right onto Russell St. Arrive in Eastern Market.



Photos:

Street Musician in front of the Gratiot Central Market

Guys Walking on a Saturday in the Market

Getting Squeezed out of the Wagon

BBQ at Bert's Place



All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger




Read more articles by Dennis Archambault.

Dennis Archambault is a Detroit-based freelance writer.
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