Cultural and commercial asset 

Oldest market in the city gets a new look and layout

What’s old is new again and taking shape within the northeast quadrant of downtown’s mile square. That’s where a makeover of the historic City Market, Indianapolis’ first grocery, is currently in progress and on-site workers are on deadline to restore a favorite tradition known to generations of citizens.

In operation since the original platting of the city in 1821, the Indianapolis City Market has undergone numerous transformations throughout its history, including the use of tents and wooden structures by meat and produce vendors, which occupied the property as early as 1833; building of the present Market House in 1886; the participation of 246 vendors and three restaurants by 1946; destruction by fire of Tomlinson Hall in 1958; a gradual decline in the ’60s due to the exodus of residents out of the city into the suburbs; and its most recent status as little more than a food court catering to mostly lunchtime crowds.

Now its latest reincarnation is due to a $2 million effort on the part of the city, which owns the Market, and the Indianapolis City Market Corporation, the non-profit organization that operates it, to renovate and restore the Market House, which became a National Historic Landmark in 1974. As part of Mayor Bart Peterson’s cultural tourism initiative, a hoped-for outcome, as expressed in a revised city strategic plan, is that “The City Market is once again positioned as a cultural and commercial asset for the city and a showcase for products and services that demonstrate the entrepreneurial spirit and long-term agricultural stability of the state.”

It’s all part of a larger movement to continue the revitalization of downtown Indianapolis. With a downtown housing boom and a growing desire among consumers for locally produced and organic foods, it appears the time could be at hand to create yet another major destination for residents and visitors. And if those ideal circumstances aren’t enough, the Market will soon be bordered by the new Cultural Trail currently under construction, which should bring traffic to its door.

The newly outfitted City Market is scheduled to hold a soft opening on June 11 with the Grand Opening week taking place July 23-28. In the meantime, Julia Garstang McKinney, the Market’s leasing agent, has been out scouring the countryside for unique vendors. The market’s goal is to have a 60/40 mix of fresh to prepared food options. According to McKinney, the roster of vendors represents a group “who will provide an experience which will be exclusive to Indianapolis and which you will not be able to find anywhere else — in any supermarket in town — not this collection of business owners with this mix of products. My goal has been to get class ‘A’ people who are passionate about what they do to move their businesses to the market in order to see its rebirth.”

New City Market tenants include Moody Meats, which will market meat, poultry, seafood and some dairy; Ruby’s Sweet Treasures, which will sell gift boxed cheesecakes, seasonal pies, soaps, kitchen gadgets, lotions and oils; Abbott’s Also, selling candies that have been made in Indiana since 1890; Cork’s Marketplace, which will offer specialty wines, imported beer, cheese, gourmet foods and gelato; Brunches, a European Style Flower Shop that will have a bucket-style stand with fresh flowers; Snacks & More, LLC, which will furnish Amish goods/jams, noodles, bean salad, chow-chow and more; and Herb & Tea, peddling 500 varieties of worldwide bulk teas, Chinese herbs and herb consulting.

The newly designed physical environment of the Market House will feature walls painted with colors from a neutral palette including greens, grays and tans. Lighting fixtures will accentuate the colors, forms and textures of the products to be sold and highlight the architecture of the building.

Other design elements include a floor plan in which fresh food stands will be positioned within the center areas of the Market House flanked by narrow aisles that, according to Marketing Director Ann McWilliams, will encourage interaction between visitors who’ll “be bumper to bumper, which will create a buzz and heighten the experience.” Restaurants, including many current tenants along with new ones, will now be situated under the mezzanine and all seating will be upstairs.

Though hoping to re-create a page from the past, the City Market’s intention is not “to become a food museum” according to McWilliams, who says, “We want people to come here every day to do their shopping much like that which is common in Europe and other places.”

According to Indianapolis Downtown, the numbers indicate that approximately 13,000 residents live and 90,000 work within a mile of the Market, so there is no doubt a built-in clientele exists, in addition to those expected to follow individual vendors.

To create further interest for visitors and ensure that the Market is viewed as a total experience and inclusive gathering place, programming will include concerts, movies and other activities. Also continuing will be the popular outdoor Original Farmer’s Market held every Wednesday from May to October. Finally, through a partnership with Reese Kitchens and Cook’s Appliances, cooking classes will be held in a newly constructed demonstration kitchen.

The Market will eventually offer after-hours pickup and a delivery service. As far as parking: There are 28 parking spaces west of the building and short-term parking in a lot at Alabama and Market, also west of the facility, which costs $1 for every two hours. The Market staff is looking at other options to create more parking near by.

A new interactive Web site, www.indianapoliscitymarket.com, to be launched in phases, will be completed in time for the July grand opening and will feature streaming media images of the Market, a video magazine and individual pages for all the vendors.

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