INDIANAPOLIS – Before the pandemic, lunchtime at Indianapolis City Market meant standing in line for food and then looking for an empty table to sit and enjoy lunch.
By noon on Thursday the market was practically empty, with only an occasional customer walking down the aisle.
“This is a safe place to visit and we are reminding people that even if you can throw a bowling ball down here, we are still open,” said Executive Director Keisha Gray.
The city market is once again at a crossroads in determining its role in downtown Indianapolis for itself, the city, and its clientele.
“This place needs a major renovation, both outside and inside, but from what I’ve heard, the management and town market as an organization just don’t have that kind of financial support,” said Ross Hanna, who has run the Twenty-Two Juice bar for eight Years. “I hope Union Station is not the fate of the city market.”
The city market was opened in 1886. Union Station opened two years later. They are iconic architectural landmarks of the 19th century siblings in downtown Indianapolis.
In the 1980s, Union Station was reinterpreted as a festival and marketplace with public spaces, food vendors and merchants. In the mid-1990s, the opening of the nearby Circle Center condemned the centuries-old but structurally solid building for trading.
The city market has had a thriving food court for decades, but it got in grave in the spring of 2020 due to the shutdown of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the ruinous riots in the city center and a construction project that closed Market Street on its doorstep Times got off. The few potential customers who are still working in the city center are not allowed to enter.
The Market Street pedestrian promenade project is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Around the same time, a large segment of the market’s customer base is starting to take action and turn to the Twin Aire community in the Middle East. That is where the Community Justice Center is gradually opening as the ribbon is severed in the Marion County jail and office, robbing downtown of hundreds of the sheriff’s staff and relatives of inmates who traditionally attended the historic food court becomes.
“There is a rich history about this particular building and there are people who love that about us,” said Gray. “We’re not trying to be the newest and shiny. We are here and we have been here for a very long time and it’s ingrained in people’s lives. “
Austin Bonds spent a dozen years serving Maxine’s Chicken & Waffles from his grandmother’s classic family recipe in a restaurant on East Street named after his grandmother.
This spring, in the face of a dine-in decline, an aging building, and a changing neighborhood that intimidated customers who came to the front door, the Bonds family relocated their restaurant to the premier City Market on the first floor just outside Front door in a place that was left empty due to the departure of longtime retailer Circle City Sweets.
“We wanted to stay in the downtown market because we already had customers downtown,” said Bonds. “And then I think they’re rebuilding downtown, building lots of apartment complexes and condominiums, and trying to get them.” all to return to downtown.
“With the convention center and the hotels, we have a hub down here where people come back and hold various events such as congresses and the like. That’s why we wanted to be like a tourist destination in the city center.”
Bonds said its first month in the market was boosted by the sale of catering to college teams that were secluded in hotels during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“I think the city will continue to put money into the building,” said Bonds, who has answered inquiries from other small business owners about the availability of space in the city market. “I think it’s just time for a change so new vendors come in and see what’s going on.”
Gray, who joined Indianapolis last fall from her previous position in a library district in south Chicago, said it was her job to preserve the historic nature of the site while working with the City Market’s board of directors on a strategic vision committed for long term viability.
“We are very careful with what we have approved as traders because we want people to understand the full extent of what is happening, because we don’t want someone here to start a company and immerse their life’s work in it and not be successful “, she said. “Every day and almost every week I have people who turn to me because they see the opportunity and the value of being in such a room. So I am confident that we will fill the spaces. It will only take us some time because we will be careful. “
There are at least nine free spaces in the market compared to the 24 tenants listed on the building’s website. However, this also includes the YMCA, with a lease that expires next year, and other organizations that rent office space.
Gray said the Market Board will begin discussions on Monday on the proposal to allow struggling sellers to terminate their leases early without penalty.
Hanna said he has no plans to move out of the market, despite wondering what an opt-out lease option will mean for the business.
“The fact that this is being offered is wonderful. However, as a tenant choosing to stay, I wonder how this will indirectly affect me because if this place gets even emptier than it is now, it could be a huge deterrent for customers wanting to visit the city market because no one else want to go to a place where the action doesn’t exist or where the action doesn’t exist because people don’t want to be there either. “
Gray said it is up to the market board to decide what it wants to be and whom it serves.
“During our strategic planning process we will find out who our customers are and it’s just not the workers who have been here, it’s the residents, it’s visitors who come to town to see us and understand what this place for the city translates into Indianapolis history. “
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