A local group wants to bring a public market to downtown Frederick, where city residents and visitors could shop for local produce and other supplies.
The market would provide a public space for people to gather downtown, said Frederick resident Alan Feinberg, who’s helping to organize the move to try and bring it to Frederick.
He would like a place to spotlight local vendors, where butchers, bakeries, grocers, antique dealers and artisans can all highlight their products.
“Everybody’s there, everybody’s welcome,” Feinberg said.
A market could take several forms, said Ted Spitzer, president of Market Ventures, an urban planning and development firm that has been consulting with Feinberg on the project.
It could be a food hall, which tend to focus on prepared food and alcohol for dining in or take-out; a public market, with stalls for local farmers and vendors selling mostly unprepared foods; or a market hall, which offers a mix of both, Spitzer said.
Public markets and market halls tend to be focused on a public mission, while food halls are usually purely commercially based.
While markets are often associated with larger urban areas, such as Lexington Market in Baltimore or Washington, D.C.’s Eastern Market, Spitzer said they can also thrive in smaller cities.
He pointed to examples such as Wenatchee, Washington, with a population of about 34,000, and Charleston, West Virginia, with a population of about 49,000 as examples of cities smaller than Frederick that have created successful markets.
That’s partly because markets draw from well outside their immediate neighborhood, while also serving residents who live nearby, Spitzer said.
But while they serve more than the immediate area, markets need to be careful to reflect their area and not become cookie-cutter tourist destinations, he said.
The research and analysis being done by Feinberg, Spitzer, and others will help local farmers better understand where they would fit into a market environment, said Sam Roop, president of the Frederick County Farm Bureau.
A lot of orchards and other growers in the county already have their own established stands or other venues for selling their products, and it might not be feasible for them to send someone into Frederick to work a separate market stand, Roop said.
And especially during the pandemic, some customers like the idea of coming out and picking their own produce straight from the tree or vine.
“That’s part of an experience that people who want their own food are investing their own time in,” Roop said.
But a market could provide a spot for younger farmers who don’t have established customers to develop new followings, especially for farms offering organic and other specialty products, he said.
The Downtown Frederick Partnership did a study on a public market around 2001, and has been interested in the idea for a long time, said Kara Norman, the partnership’s executive director.
It’s certainly an interesting idea, she said, but the fact that they’ve been talking about it for so long shows there are challenges.
The businesses probably won’t have high profit margins, so finding somewhere with affordable rent will be important, she said.
The ongoing pandemic also makes it hard to say when the downtown financial market settles, or what it will be in the future, she said.
The question of when people will be able or willing to gather in a large, indoor market is an important one, said Rick Weldon, director of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce.
While Weldon said he’s not convinced a downtown market is the best solution, he thinks the conversation should continue.
“I don’t know that it’s the answer, but I think it’s going to take a bunch of different things to keep us moving forward,” Weldon said.
Meanwhile, Feinberg believes a market would be just the thing to help reinvigorate downtown in the wake of the pandemic.
“This is a way to do something really dramatic,” he said.