Three years after the gift vendors moved from the food bay of the Erie Street Market into Frog Town Square, the vendors are moving back.
"I can't see it being any worse," said Diane Schlueter, owner of Sincerely Gift Baskets, as she trundled her wares and display racks from Frog Town to the adjacent market bay. "We'll wait and see."
Market officials say the result will be a busier public market with more vendors, and a large open space in the adjacent bay that can be used for special events.
The former Frog Town Square will be available for events such as charity contests and flower and car shows.
"The decision was made to put that together as a space that will make the market complete," said Pat Nowak, the new market manager.
An event already is planned. The Practically A Golf Tournament to benefit epilepsy treatment will move from Westfield Shoppingtown Franklin Park to the market in February.
Ms. Nowak said the market, which is subsidized by the city, will pay for the vendors to move. It is the first significant physical change in the market since a consultant's report earlier this year recommended a $5 million overhaul. Mayor Jack Ford has said the city cannot afford the consultant's proposal.
Frog Town Square became the market's fourth filled bay in 2001, joining the food bay, the Antiques Mall, and the Libbey Glass Factory Outlet.
Connected by an open door to the food bay, the intent of Frog Town Square was to expand the shopping space and bring more food and produce vendors to the main hall, the former Civic Auditorium.
However, many of the vacated stalls in the food bay were never filled. As activity at the market waned, a consultant's report released in May said the market was in crisis.
Vendors transferring to the food bay are Hill Enterprise and Specialty Gifts, which sells sports-related items; Nissi's Nautical; Classic Irish Imports; Sincerely Gift Baskets, and the Bot'Lady, which sells hand-blown glass.
SW Imports and Gifts is closing. Ornaments With Class is moving into the hallway. And Curb's Candle Co. is moving into an enclosed retail space in the hallway, Ms. Nowak said.
Jill Howard, owner of SW Imports and Gifts, one of the market's original merchants, said she opted to close for several reasons, including the potential of food smoke and grease for damaging her products.
"Due to the severe decline in patronage, which I feel has been brought on by the lack of leadership [and] management and inconsistency, my sales have declined to a point that I can no longer survive here," she said in a memo to market management.
Crystal Campbell, who owns Nissi's Nautical, said she and her neighbor, Hill Enterprise, are looking forward to being back in the main market hall.
She said it makes sense to have one full market hall rather than two half-empty ones.
"It think it's a great idea," Ms. Campbell said. "We did better when we were mixed up over [in the food bay]."
Ms. Nowak, who started Monday as the market's ninth manager, is promising an aggressive effort to decorate the market, hold seasonal events, and recruit new and different vendors.
She said the newly cleared Frog Town Square will fill an important need - event space in the Warehouse District.
The events will generate revenue for the market and attract new groups of shoppers to wander the market and possibly purchase food and gifts.
Ms. Nowak said she wants to reclaim the enthusiasm that bolstered the market when it opened in 1997.
"Our job is to re-invent a place that is so fun that [shoppers] do come down, make this the hub of town," Ms. Nowak said.
"We're freshening up the place. Top to bottom, it's getting a sprucing up," Ms. Nowak said.
One of her goals is to create some displays that evoke the history of the 1913 structure.
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