COLUMBUS, Ohio (WOOD) - The closest comparison to the brand-new Grand Rapids' Downtown Market is in Ohio. Earlier this month, Grand Rapids officials went there to learn about how the market works.
24 Hour News 8 sat in on a mid-April tour during which Grand Rapids officials and future vendors visited the North Market in Columbus. Most had previously been to similar indoor markets, like in Philadelphia, Seattle, or San Francisco, but this was a last-minute chance to ask questions of Columbus vendors.
Photos: GR Market's closest comparison
The Grand Rapids Downtown farmers market opens Saturday, but the main attraction -- the indoor Market Hall -- is expected to open in August.
The Market Hall is what makes the two markets similar. Columbus' North Market has 32 merchants. They are a mix of small-business owners and food entrepreneurs, and include a butcher, a fishmonger and a bread baker, among others. Grand Rapids' market will have similar merchants.
Columbus and Grand Rapids were both planned by Market Ventures. The Maine-based market planning firm helped implement a 1995 plan to rebuild the North Market.
Grand Rapids organizers and vendors visited weeks before the Columbus Market begins its busiest season -- farmers market season. While visitors were there, the market was busy for lunch as those who work downtown and out-of-town convention visitors stopped for a quick bite.
One thing the Grand Rapids visitors noticed was the development around the North Market. The Short North neighborhood, where the North Market stands, used to be "scary" just a couple decades ago, according to Columbus' bread baker Amy Lozier.
"It was not the best," Lozier laughed.
She remembers coming to the North Market with her grandfather while she was growing up and how dangerous the neighborhood was.
"There had always been art galleries in the area," Lozier recounted. "But you couldn't get anyone in them because it was a scary area."
That changed since the 1995 rebuild, Lozier said. It was coupled with the city's convention center and the Nationwide Arena within several blocks from the market.
Grand Rapids leaders said seeing the development provides hope for the Heartside neighborhood, where the project's leaders hope the market will provide a "Market District" of restaurants, housing and other businesses.
"We're going into an area that's being redeveloped, and it's exciting to see what we could become," Downtown Market President and CEO Mimi Fritz said after the group's tour.
The group also made time to ask their counterparts questions. Grand Rapids artisan baker Shelby Kibler had a one-on-one lesson with the North Market's baker, Lozier.
"Is Tuesday and Wednesday, for instance, really slow for you?" Kibler, a first-time business owner, asked.
"We do 60 and 80 percent of our business on Saturday -- depending on the season," stated Lozier, who has been at the market for 10 years.
The trip was just a taste of what to expect.
The Grand Rapids Downtown Market will have some things Columbus does not, including a greenhouse, a banquet room, meeting rooms, teaching kitchens and two restaurants.
But the main attraction -- the Market Hall -- needs to run smoothly when it opens this summer. That's why the visit was so important for Grand Rapids organizers and vendors.
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