Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Soulard Merchants Squeeze, Thump Market's Future

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Soulard Merchants Squeeze, Thump Market's Future

Article excerpt

Soulard Market has long had a dual personality.

Poor people who come for the bargains mix with rich folks who come for gourmet-quality and eclectic foodstuffs. Some come because they like open-air shopping and the aromatic din; others because Soulard is an entertaining novelty in their world of Muzak malls and supermarkets.

And these days, the people of Soulard Market seem to be of two, sharply divided minds on the health of the market. Is it rapidly dying, about to make the final leap from nostalgic to extinct? Or is it a thriving survivor on the brink of a boom in organic foods and sustainable agriculture?

It depends on whom you ask.

"It's been here 200 years, and it'll be here another 200," said Charles Radazzo, who's been selling produce at the market 63 years of his 70 years.

His wife, Patricia, who's worked there a mere 30 years, said things are looking up. "I thought they were going to close it up for a while there, about five years ago," she said.

"It's a lot better now, with the advertising and publicity we're getting."

Other longtime merchants said that they fear that the market won't see the next century. Several factors are out of their control, they said, including:

The decline of cooking. American families are more inclined to microwave a frozen dinner or pick up some fast-food chicken than to prepare a meal from scratch with fresh ingredients.

The loss of population in the inner city, and the suburbanites' fear of the city.

The decline of small farms and direct marketing by farmers.

Some Soulard vendors also focus on something they believe can be changed: the city's management of the market. "This is a business, and the city knows nothing about running a business," said one third-generation vendor.

Those who complained asked to remain anonymous. They said market management had punished complainers in the past by assigning them poor locations.

Several complained that the market's manager had taken a laissez-faire attitude toward them rather than nurturing them through precarious times.

Another common criticism is that the city isn't promoting the market enough.

Sandra Zak took over as market master three years ago. She's a city employee. She said the criticism comes not from her lack of effort or effectiveness but because she represents change.

"I'm the first woman to have this job, and the first with a background in retailing and shopping-center management," she said.

She said that in the interest of fairness to all vendors, she eliminated special favors that some had received. Too High-Brow

A common complaint is that the southwest wing of the market is nearly deserted most Saturdays. Some vendors believe that Zak discouraged the trinket vendors who once congregated there. Zak said she discouraged only vendors of dangerous items, such as weapons, and obscene items, such as some T-shirts. …

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