Commentaries Food & Drink

Downtown View: Public Market On Its Way

Good news: the Boston Public Market Association says its year-round market for Massachusetts-grown, made, hunted and fished food will open in June, 2014. Well, maybe not hunted, but you can see how that would fit in.

Earlier this year, after a lengthy, delayed process, the state designated the BPMA as occupants of the ground floor of the parking garage and empty state office building at the Haymarket T station between Congress Street and the Greenway, near the Haymarket pushcarts. Planning nerds call it Parcel 7.

The process was unnecessary because the space was intended for such a market from the start, and the non-profit Boston Public Market was the only group with the know-how to run such a thing. But some people complained the fix was in. Greg Bialecki, the state’s Secretary of the Housing and Economic Development, had been head of the BPMA for many years. Never mind that no one was profiting from this venture except Massachusetts farmers and fishers, who’ve had to wait longer to reap its benefits.

But it’s only lost time. We might now be in the home stretch with this highly anticipated offering. You could ask how this market expects to thrive when, even with global warming, the Massachusetts growing season is so short that since the Civil War farmers have been leaving the state for places with longer summers. Answer—greenhouses, and lots of other products besides tomatoes, including baked goods, cheese, meat, poultry, and who knows what else that vaunted group—entrepreneurs—will come up with. I say bring it on. With a steady, year-round market, producers feel more secure in making investments in equipment, employees and new ideas.

State officials and the BPMA are still negotiating the lease and the state still hasn’t designated a developer for an adjacent parcel, the uses of which could affect aspects of the market. You want to say, “just get it done, guys.” There have been too many holdups already.

In typical Boston fashion, there is suspicion and dark questioning of motives from some corners. In this case, it’s the Haymarket pushcart vendors, a group you’d think would feel pretty secure. After all, they are loved by everyone—bargain hunters, budget-conscious buyers, downtown workers, students, nostalgia buffs, appreciators of street performance, and every one who has to make guacamole for 15 people on Super Bowl day and needs cheap, ripe avocados. The vendors recently complained, as they have all along, about the public market’s competition with them.

It’s hard to see the competition. When the “market district” is built out, there will be more space for everyone, with upgraded facilities for the pushcarts. It would appear that the pushcarts will benefit from the new customers the public market will bring. Foodies wanting the best local cheese will be attracted by those avocados that are ready to use and the bananas and other products the public market can’t, by definition, carry. Haymarket right now is a busy, successful place and can only get more so with a sister institution complementing their offerings.

The real competition for the Haymarket vendors could be at the adjacent Parcel 9, where they inexplicably supported a proposal to install a year-round “farmers’ market” that the developer said would supplement its offerings in the off season with produce from the same Chelsea markets that the Haymarket vendors use. The state has not yet chosen a developer for this piece of land.

The Haymarket pushcart vendors won’t suffer from a public market. Instead it will probably be the Whole Foods at Charles River Plaza, a ten-minute walk away. Whole Foods tries to offer a public market’s kind of products, but large corporations are too unwieldy to consistently succeed. The long-desired supermarket slated for a northern parcel on the Greenway could also be hurt by a public market’s success, but, in turn, could reduce sales at Haymarket.

What really is going on here isn’t about food or fairness or facts. It’s about class. Westerners and Midwesterner who move to Boston are still surprised at the city’s tribal warfare and class clashes, although, admittedly, such clashes are growing more prevalent everywhere.

Most class confrontations, though, are exaggerated. Everyone responds to high quality, beauty and healthiness. Everyone likes bargains and low prices. Rich people don’t buy caviar anymore than less rich people buy beans. Some people, no matter what their circumstances, are entertained by the rough and tumble of Haymarket. Others prefer the isolation of ordering from Peapod.

People and communities are most successful when they are not isolated by class. Some Haymarket vendors have second homes, just like lawyers might. Some lawyers have worked their way through college in jobs similar to the pushcart vendors. The edges of the Greenway are for all of us. Let’s stop the wrangling over unsaid matters and move forward in a project that is going to help everyone we say we care about—farmers, foodies and the weekend purveyors of inexpensive food.

Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at