Public Market in Strip District faces another move
December 8, 2015 12:00 AM
Shauna Frantz-Deppe of the Clarion River Oganics works at the booth in the Public Market in the Strip.
By Melissa McCart / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Pittsburgh Public Market will move from its current location in the Strip District at the end of April to a new space in the same neighborhood or another location in the city because the landlord, Horton Corp., will not renew the lease.
The market at 2401 Penn Ave. will close just over two years after Strip District advocacy group Neighbors in the Strip moved it from a 12,000-square-foot space in the historic produce terminal on Smallman Street to the current 24,000-square-foot location.
“We were as surprised as anyone that the landlord did not want to renew,” said Kit Mueller, member of the six-person Market Council, a nonprofit entity set up by Neighbors in the Strip to run the market. Mr. Mueller said the council, general manager Rich Westerfield and Neighbors in the Strip had been working for months on a long-term lease for the space.
There are more than 20 vendors at the market, with three to eight additional businesses operating there on weekends during the holiday season. In November, an outpost of the Squirrel Hill shop Ten Thousand Villages opened a holiday stall and The Colombian Spot opened a food outpost earlier in the fall.
Several businesses have left since the market opened on Penn Avenue in October 2013, such as Crested Duck Charcuterie, which had been a marquee tenant located near the entrance. It expanded into a restaurant location in Beechview.
PG graphic: Pittsburgh Public Market locations (Click image for larger version)
Horton Corp. purchased the Penn Avenue property in 2009 for an undisclosed sum; the taxable market value for the property is $1.225 million. The company did not return calls to confirm it would not renew the lease.
Mr. Mueller and Mr. Westerfield were adamant in their assertions the market is not closing for good.
Mr. Mueller said the Market Council is considering “all kinds of options in the Strip District and across the city.” It is looking for a permanent location with a 10-year lease or longer.
He said a move back to the produce terminal is one of a dozen options under consideration.
Last week, the Post-Gazette reported Chicago-based McCaffery Interests, which is redeveloping the produce terminal, has overhauled its plans, replacing much of the proposed housing with offices and retail, which would include a food-focused anchor.
“Wherever we end up,” Mr. Westerfield said, “the numbers have to work for us and for our vendors, and there needs to be long-term security.”
Kevin Acklin, chief of staff to Mayor Bill Peduto, said the administration will be meeting with public market representatives within the next week or so to discuss the lease situation and to “evaluate potential options for relocation.”
Mr. Acklin stressed that the administration wants to see the public market remain open. “I think it's been a good asset to the Strip District and has provided opportunities for small business owners to have a shared space” in the Penn Avenue corridor, he said.
The Pittsburgh Public Market initially opened in the produce terminal in 2010 with stalls that included branches of long-standing businesses such as East End Brewing, as well as fledgling businesses that initially lacked capital for a full commercial location.
After three years there, it moved to the Penn Avenue site, which doubled the available space and provided amenities such as air conditioning, heating and restrooms.
Through the transition to a third location, the goal is to protect the vendors, Mr. Westerfield said.
“Regardless of what will happen,” he said, “we want to make sure things will be solid for them,” citing the “month or two” it may take between April and the opening of a new location that could leave businesses financially vulnerable if they don’t plan now.
Vendors are deciding whether they’ll move with the market.
“I fully intend on joining the Pittsburgh Public Market once again,” said Eric Earnest of Ohio City Pasta. “I want to help make the public market what it could be and what it should be.”
In January 2014, a few months after the market had moved to Penn Avenue, he had said that he hadn’t yet made a profit. Since then, the stand has “hit a stride,” he said.
Though Mr. Earnest also sells his products at East End Food Co-Op, Farm Truck Foods and at farmers markets in season, his base is the Pittsburgh Public Market.
“All I really know is I have to be out in a few months,” Mr. Earnest said. “And I’m pretty upset about that.”
Mark Belko contributed. Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.
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