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Essex Street Market Vendors Forced to Close Amid Dwindling Foot Traffic

By Lisha Arino | February 25, 2015 10:16am
 Vendors say the city has not done enough to promote the Essex Street Market and want it stop managing its day-to-day operations.
Essex Street Market Vendors Struggle With Dwindling Foot Traffic
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LOWER EAST SIDE — After a year inside the Essex Street Market, business owner Bill Frazer is calling it quits.

“There’s not enough people going through the market anymore,” said Frazer, who's closing his floral shop Essex Flowers next month because foot traffic is too low to allow him to break even.

“Some days it felt like 100 people walked through the whole day.”

When the lease for Essex Flowers expires in March, it will have been the third business to close inside the 75-year-old retail space this year. Heritage Meat Shop closed after four years in business on Tuesday. The Brooklyn Taco Company, which opened in 2011, left the market earlier this month, according to reports.

The recent closures have brought to light vendors’ complaints about the shortfalls in the management by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which runs the market. Tenants say the EDC has not done a good job promoting the 75-year-old retail space and has been slow to respond to vendors’ needs.

“I don’t think they always had the best interest of the vendors in mind and that’s basically it in a nutshell,” said Patrick Martins, who founded Heritage Meats. He declined to elaborate further.

Business owners said foot traffic has decreased in the past year, partly because the agency has done a poor job promoting the market. Many potential customers think the market is already closed and will not return until the new market is built in Essex Crossing, which is expected to open in 2018, they said.

“There’s so much talk about the new market going in that it almost feels like the old market got left behind even though it wasn’t going to close for four years,” said Frazer, whose business also has a Grand Street location.

The building’s brick exterior is also uninviting and does give new residents and passerby a sense of what’s inside, vendors added.

The Lower East Side Business Improvement District, with money provided by the EDC, placed new signage on the door last fall, but the Rhonda Kave, who opened Roni-Sue’s Chocolates in 2007, said she had complained about the exterior for years before the signs were added.

Business owners have banded together to form the Essex Street Market Vendors Association as well as a working group made up of the association, the EDC, the LES BID and Community Board 3, but changes have still been slow, she said.

EDC spokesman Christopher Carroll said it was the agency’s goal “to cultivate a vibrant, inclusive and balanced market environment that benefits every member of the market community.”

“We look forward to continuing to work closely with the vendors to help them grow and thrive, and will continue to work with the local community to ensure that the Market remains a cornerstone of the Lower East Side,” he said in a statement.

An EDC official said the agency has been working to address vendors' concerns and promote the market. It has been developing new banners for the building’s exterior and a social media strategy, as well as new brochures and a new website.

A marketing and rebranding campaign that features interviews and photos of each vendor will also launch next week, he said.

Kave said the vendors' association is calling for the EDC to step down from day-to-day operations. The city agency, they say, is too bureaucratic to respond to their needs in a timely manner making it difficult for some vendors to stay in business.

“They’re not market managers, they’re asset managers for the city,” Kave said.

But those efforts aren’t enough, some vendors said.

She said she would like the to see the EDC act as a “sponsoring agency” while a non-profit organization handles day-to-day operations, a model that has been adopted by other markets around the country, she said.

The vendors plan to speak in front of the community board and ask for their support next month for the new management structure next month, Kave said.