Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Erie Street Market plans expansion

On May 1, the market officially sheds its city department status and comes under the full control of the board of its nonprofit corporation. At the same time the market will begin a structural transformation that is expected to increase the number of merchants.

“It's going to be gorgeous, more of a mall-type of environment,” said Steve Cox, owner of the Soap Bar, a homemade soap business.

Officials have decided to use its large empty bay to create a specialty nonfood market, moving all nonfood-related businesses out of the existing market, which will turn into a strictly fresh-food emporium.

Public market consultants hired by the city had suggested splitting the market into two distinct shopping centers - food and dry goods - when they studied the market last year.

It also has been the desire of nonfood vendors at the market who, last fall, approached the market board about relocating into the empty bay.

Toledo city council is poised to allocate about $200,000 from this year's capital improvement budget to pay for the conversion of the empty bay and construction of merchant stalls there.

The move is expected to be approved at council's April 17 meeting.

Julie Champa, market manager, said construction can't begin until council approves the money, but she is hopeful that work will begin in two to three weeks.

Tentative plans call for the revamped market to open sometime in early June, possibly in conjunction with the start of the farmer's market outside. But Ms. Champa cautioned that the date was “ambitious” and construction may not be finished that quickly.

“It's an exciting time for the market,” said Jack Jolley, president of market's board.

Toledo Councilman Pete Gerken, a board member, said the nonfood market would have space for 30 merchants.

When it opens, eight to 10 of those spaces should be full, but he said there is a list of 24 vendors who want to locate in the new area.

“What we don't want to have happen, is to have two bays each half full,” Mr. Gerken said.

He said Ms. Champa is searching for food vendors to fill the spots the nonfood vendors will be vacating in the fresh-food market, and has lobbied a Bowling Green butcher, and Middle Eastern food vendors from Dearborn, Mich.

Mr. Cox said the change would be a plus for nonfood vendors, because they will have more space to sell larger varieties of items. Mr. Cox said he hopes to expand his offerings into a full line of bath products.

“It will be like a big home store with a lot of different buyers,” he said. “It's going to be a good thing.”

At the same time, Mr. Cox said he expects the additional merchants to generate more customers and help boost sales at the fresh-food market as well.

“There will be added activity, a bigger choice, more vendors. The new bay should be exciting to see. It's just another step in the market progressing and becoming more successful,” Mr. Jolley said.

Preliminary plans call for vendor areas to be decorated with lively green awnings and for a fountain in the center of the bay, Mr. Gerken said.

The new bay is not the only change at the market.

As of May 1, the conversion of the market from a city department to a nonprofit corporation run by a board will be completed.

In August, city council adopted a management agreement that created the Erie Street Market Development Corp., in an effort to take the market out of the hands of Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's administration.

As part of the conversion, the board has begun interviewing candidates for the market manager's job, Mr. Jolley said.

Ms. Champa is one of several candidates who have applied and are under consideration, he said.

Mr. Jolley said the move to search for a new manager is not a statement about the job Ms. Champa has been doing, but he said the board felt that making its own hire was the proper way to proceed.

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