Gateway Green Alliance/Green Party of St. Louis

Save Soulard Market: Racism, elitism behind Soulard market renovation plan

From Mark Quercus of Confluence

Please view the Fall, 1999 issue of Confluence for an alternative proposal to Market renovation, one that preserves the historical character and current customer and vendor base of the market without making it into a mini-Mall.

Below is information on the Soulard market restoration plan which goes to a vote on Feb 15, 2000.

Save Soulard Market

The design team Kiku and Obata with the City of St. Louis, St. Louis Development Corporation, and the Soulard Market Restoration Inc. are persisting with a plan for the farmers' market . The team claims they will broaden the clientale by including prepared foods, different vendors and a more appealing environment. Their plans are based on the survey provided by Projects for Public Places which is flawed by error and bias. If this plan succeeds, Soulard Market’s role as provider to the entire population of St. Louis will be replaced by one which serves the desires of the wealthy and benefits the interests of real estate developers. This is specifically at the expense of the poor and the working class who rely on the Market for affordable food. There will be an increased need for food pantries and a further division between the haves and have nots in the city. Since so many of the city’s poor are African American, once again this population will suffer the most.

To support their activites the planners cite a one-year decline of 7% to indicate a trend of decline. They indicate the problem is "the days of automatic business for a public market are over." [PPP report p13] Their plan targets three groups for increased participation. Women, they claim are under-represented but offer no strategy to change this. [PPP report p7] On page 6 they report that 57% of the respondents were women. Blacks should be targeted by including advertisements in the St. Louis American. But much consideration is dedicated to "Higher income suburban residents...(and) Younger discretionary shoppers who would likely come a recreatonal activity." [PPP report p7] It is clear that this population comprise the intended audience for the proposal. This is despite their failure to perform as substantial consumers in the market . On page ii of Appendix A they report that they "spend less than the other shoppers at the market." Further the survey shows that few shoppers come from west county (sensible since there are several farmer’s markets located in west county).

The changes they propose are "HVAC consider air conditioning, (to) Paint sheds structure in a light color, redesign stall system to provide more effective signage, ... and storage systems for merchants and establish tennant design standards" [PPP report; pp10-11] The outcome will be the homogenized appearance of a sub-urban supermarket. The new incarnation of the Market will be self-sufficient, feature innovative merchandizing [PPP report; executive summary pi] and make the Market more ... competative with supermarkets. [PPP report p1] "St. Louis ...(according to the design team) no longer needs to subsidize the market" [PPP report; p14] The Market is under private management will "make unpopular decisions, stick to them, and do the right thing to put the market on firm competitive footing." [PPP report; p14] Similarly, since "Supermarkets are increasing their hours of operation ... so Soulard must too." [PPP report; p14] That supermarkets and corporate food chains are unfair competition to the private vendors is of no concern. A vendor asked that a written statement be included prohibiting corporate merchants from vending in the Market. The blank statement "well, no one wants Starbucks in the Market" in response is not only insufficient but also hides the teams unwillingness to exclude corporates.

These changes are not wanted by the current customers. The report states "About a quarter of the respondents said that they would not make any changes to make Soulard better. Black respondents were less likely to want any changes to the market." [PPP report; Appendix A p.iv] The statistics for how many African Americans wanted no change were conspicuously absent. They also state that the vast majority (75%) consider the products, variety, cleanliness (63.9%) friendliness, availability of lunch and availability of specialty foods at the Market to be as good as or better than at supermarkets. [PPP report; Executive Sumary pp ii-iii]

So then who shops at Soulard Market? According to the survey only 39% of the shoppers reported an income below $35,000 [PPP report; p6] But the racial breakdown is even more suspect. The survey reports that "29% of the shoppers are Black". [PPP report; p6] Then, on page 7 they report that African Americans make up 26% of the shoppers. According to vendors over 50% of their customers are African American. So how could the survey be so incorrect? Several vendors who observed the survey process reported the survey team was present only in the morning when most of the shoppers are wealthy suburbanites. A vendor also reported that "they would look and see how you was dressed, and if you looked kinda rough they’d pass you up".

Why would they under-representing African Americans? In part because African Americans don’t want the Market changed. There could also be a hidden racist agenda. This is being played out in the Southwest wing where nearly all the African American are currently located. Part of the plan is to relocate "other built in stores in other sheds ... to SW shed." [PPP report; p11] An African American vendor asked if they are being treated fairly responded; "No. Not at all. All of us on this wing, but one, are Black. And we are being displaced. We're only given the option to go outdoors amd they refuse to put of anything against the weather. We requested lights, heat and garage-doors and they said that would not be done. That would mean that businesses, that have proven to be viable down here, would have to go; we just can’t be expected to survive financially in the elements."

And what kind of business will replace these African Americans; 'an anchor-type resturant.' [PPP report; p 11] What is an anchor-type resturant that Smokey-O’s (an African American run sit down resturant in the southwest shed) isn't? The only possible answer is either White or corporate run. While the design team claims to desire diversity their strategies include only ‘higher income whites’ and nowhere in the plan is there a program for including African Americans. Another vendor said; "All the people of color have been segregated into this wing which the management calls 'the dead wing.' And this wing is the one singled out for the most changes and everyone has be moved out into the cold. I don’t think they really want people of color to even be in the Market!" Her customer, also African American responded; "Ain’ that a shame! (shaking her head in dissapproval) Just the way it always is."

It is not just the African Americans however, who are being eliminated from the Market. As rents rise to pay for the additional expense of "making the market a more attactive place to shop" and self-sufficiency the working class and poor will be elbowed out by higher prices. Included in the plan is an initiative to "relocate bathrooms to 2nd floor" [PPP report; p 11] and "Eliminate the dumpsters for more modern trash systems". [PPP report; p 15] I was told by an employee that in an unguarded moment Sandra Zak, Soulard Market Master, wished to scare the homeless away from the Market in the periods when little or no business is being conducted. A homeless man named 'Blue' told me: "I’ll tell you what this market is; it’s survival. That’s what it is; survival."

So who will benefit most from this renovation? The answer is in the report. "Blacks and respondents with incomes of less than $35,000 said they did not want to see changes in the days of hours of operation. However ... the closest 75% of the shoppers said they would like to see the market open until 7:00pm." [PPP report; Appendix A, p v] "Anchored in a strong and committed neighborhood with burgeoning retail and cultural activities, Soulard Market is a natural focal point for renewal." Their purpose is to “create spin off development from the market revitalization” which will “continue neighborhood and district enhancement" [PPP report; p 5] Stated differently the gentrified Market will be "A centerpiece for local economic development in the neighborhood" [PPP report; Executive Summary, p. i] Naturally the task force which will determine if this plan will benefit the city (as well as the private corporation who will then manage the Market) is comprised of members of local community, bankers and real estate developers, among others. [PPP report; p23] Finally they will "Establish a development district around the market which incorporates a comprehensive approach to streetscape, targets development sites, and provides assistance for property owners and businesses." [PPP report; p17] Put simply, the wealthy who own or manage properties in two of the most wealthy and sought after neighborhoods in the city will reap the benefits of increased governmental funding while the needy communities go wanting. And while it is the historic nature of these neighborhoods which attract people to them, the design firm gets away with colors and signage which are in violation of historic standards; particularly their goal of enhancing visibility with a roof top sign [PPP report; p12].

There will be a dramatic increase in administration of the Market. The current budget indicates that management (salary for market master, benefits, advertizing, supplies, office expense, accounting, legal and administration) = $154,500. The Market is kept clean with $55,000 for trash pick up and an additional $50,000 for custodians - thats $105,000 for up-keep. [PPP report; p19 ] None of this operates well by anyone’s standards! Their solution is to add to the budget two more part time custodians, increase the salery for marketmaster to $50,000, add an Asst. Manager (Sandra works less than 16 hours a week!) a facilities manager and bookeeper (another $136,000) and increase supplies by $10, 000. [PPP report; p21] Thus the current deficit spending is remedied by increasing the spending by $118,500! [PPP report; p21] They apparantly have the same sense of accountabilty to the city at large. According to their plan they ensure that "the city wishes to reach a consensus on a step by step revitalization plan." [PPP report; p5] To date they have held one public meeting. They are also to produce a “3 year operating budget and transition plan including rent schedules” [PPP report; p24] When asked how much rents will rise they have reported there is no way of knowing.

On February 8 the vendors will be asked to vote for or against this plan. In the letter sent to the vendors they are warned that rents will rise whether or not the plan is approved. The notice also informs them that anyone not present at the meeting will have their vote counted as in favor of the plan. The meetings with the vendors have been marked by threats and a hostile and insulting demeanor. The level of vendors’ trust for the design team is reflected in the fact that all who I spoke to requested to be quoted anonymously for fear of retribution. Several even asked that lines be stricken as it could be traced back to them. I asked a vendor if she knew if the meeting was on the 8th or the 15th. "I don’t know." I asked; "Did they switch it?" and her reply was "They do it all the time. That’s why I say I don’t know 'cause I never do until the last minute." Another responded to the question of whether this was a good time of year for this vote; "No one’s here! These two months is off-season. Sandra's not even here! She’s down in the Grand Cayman Islands!"

So I asked vendors what they thought of the plan. Aunt Mae, who worked at the Market for 60 years said “Oh to hell with ‘em - I’m leaving” and that’s just what she did. Another vendor said; “Just look out here (pointing to the northwest) you can see what they’re up to. See that (pointing to City Hospital 1) and there (to the Welch’s Baby Carrage Factory and then moving his finger accros the horizon towards Lafayette Square). They want all this for themselves and the market just stands in the way.”

The farmers wont tollerate the change. A farmer was asked what he thought the effect of the plan would be on farmers in the market. He answered; "Oh I think that eventually they’ll all just leave. That’s what I think." A produce vendor pulled out a newspaper clipping from their cash area. "It says April 20th 1988; Mayor Schoemel withdraws plan for Soulard Market. And here it says that Alderwoman Phyllis Young says she's glad the Market is not being turned over to a private corporation. What caused her to change her mind? The Market doesn’t need a private management team - it never did and it still doesn’t."

A customer overhearing this sarcastically commented; "But they’re gonna make it pretty aren’t they? All historic and everything?" The vendor’s rage was obvious. "When they want to take the alley and build a new wall? That’s hiding the Market. Maybe they’re not disfiguring the actual building but you won’t be able to see it anymore just so they can have a food preparation area here like at Dierbergs!"

We strongly advise in the interest of fair trade, the benefit of the citizens and civic responsibility that this proposed renovation plan be abandoned! Free trade is being jeopardized as well as the last hope for the city’s poor to draw themselves out of poverty. A vendor whose family has worked at the market for four generations summed it up well. "The people at Soulard Market have stood here for all these years without modern conveniences to save money and pass it on to the customers. We never asked for anything but a slab of concrete and we do just fine. And if they would just do their job (of managing the Market) we wouldn’t have any problems here."

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