When I was living in London, Ontario for a short period of time in 2000/2001, I managed to get an internship with Mainstreet London, an organization seeking to revitalize downtown London through a variety of mechanisms including beautification, promotions, events, and marketing. To that point in my life, it was my dream job as downtown revitalization was (and still is) a passion of mine. While downtown London had a number of challenges at the time, there were some cool things going on. Perhaps the most interesting spot in the downtown was the Covent Garden Market, which opened in the late 1990s and occupies much of a city block. The building was beautifully designed and had an interesting mix of food-related and non-food related businesses. It was fun to meander down the aisles and see the various products available (and this was before my diet had dramatically shifted from macaroni and cheese). The Covent Garden Market was and is a public market that allows a number of small vendors to come together and create a critical mass of activity that supports the viability of each of the small businesses. The market was a key node for the overall revitalization of downtown London and with the later addition of the John Labatt Centre arena across the road, has created a fantastic public square that provides space for outdoor events and concerts.
Recently, a group in Kamloops has unveiled conceptual plans that would involve the development of a public market in Riverside Park. Their plans to include a 35,000 square foot building and public plaza area built atop a parkade. According to the initial plans, it would house 15 permanent businesses, likely mostly food-related, 20 day stalls and outdoor space for a seasonal Farmers Market that would have space for 100 stalls. (you can see the concepts here: https://www.kamloopspublicmarket.org/). It’s an interesting idea and something worth considering. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of resistance in the community to even exploring the idea. Nancy Bepple published an article dismissing the idea with a headline saying that ‘Many reasons an indoor farmers market is the wrong way to go’. (article is here: https://armchairmayor.ca/2018/07/18/bepple-many-reasons-an-indoor-farmers-market-is-the-wrong-way-to-go/). Her basic contention was that we shouldn’t mess with a good thing and that farmers markets work best when they respect the seasons and have limited hours of operation throughout the week.
There is no doubt that the Kamloops Farmers Market has become on institution in this town and that it is something that brings people together. It’s an important part of our community fabric and we must respect that. That being said, it would be foolish not to even consider the idea of a Public Market through further study and ongoing community dialogue. Here are a few reasons why:
1.) The basic premise of Nancy Bepple’s article is that this would replicate the existing Farmers Market. I’d argue that a Public Market would differ somewhat from the Farmers Market in that it would provide a lot more variety of value-added food services in addition to produce and meats. Think more mini-bakeries and delis, small food stands and other value added services. Also think about other unique little businesses that could operate in this space. Sure there would be plants, produce and meats but that wouldn’t be the sole focus. The public market does not even preclude the continued operation of the existing Farmers Markets. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have both?
2.) It would provide suitable space for micro-enterprise – this space could fill a void that exists between those people working from the back of their trucks and those that need larger retail space. The value-added food enterprises could use a different kind of space that is currently not available in Kamloops. A public market could fill this void and provide an incubator space for vendors – not a lot of upfront capital and lower lease rates but huge benefits from being in a space that would attract a lot of people and would be good for those small businesses that are not destination type businesses but rather reliant on walk-by traffic. We do not have this kind of business space anywhere in Kamloops. These businesses could either outgrow the spot and find other retail space or stay the same size but the important premise is that a lot of upfront risk would be taken out of the equation.
3.) It’d be another tourist attraction in our downtown – when I am touring around cities, I love going to spaces like public markets. Our downtown has very few interesting businesses for tourists which is fine because our downtown should cater to its residents. However, with the recent announcement of Rocky Mountaineer’s aggressive plans to increase the number of people taking its tours, a public market, particularly in Riverside Park, could attract a number of tourists. And the fact that it would be open 40+ hours a week versus the 10 hours of Farmers Market per week would allow it to capture more of that tourist traffic.
4.) It would be an interesting addition to Riverside Park – I know some people don’t like the idea of businesses in public parks. However some of the most vibrant community spaces I’ve seen in my travels throughout the world have effectively mixed the public and the commercial realms seamlessly in parks and squares. Imagine being able to grab some food at the public market and take it down into the park for a picnic. Or imagine how this would complement the addition of an outdoor refrigerated rink in Riverside Park in the winter. Right now the spot that is being considered is a parking lot – it’s nicely landscaped as parking lots go but it’s still a parking lot that could be redeveloped into something more. This isn’t the same as the parkade idea from a few years ago. The public market at this location could support even greater vibrancy at Riverside Park and be a further contributor to the ongoing vitalization of Lorne Street which has undergone an amazing transformation over the last 10 years.
5.) It’d be something interesting for the people that work and live downtown – as someone who works downtown I would be excited to have this Public Market as a place to get lunch or just wander around. And I would imagine this would add to the quality of life for people living downtown. This would add significantly to our downtown.
6.) It would highlight the importance of agriculture and food in our community – in some ways its amazing that the current market does so well because there is no real infrastructure that supports it. The Saturday market just involves the closure of St. Paul Street and the use of Stuart Wood while the Wednesday market is crammed in half a block of sidewalk. Other communities at least have permanent stalls while others have a mix of indoor and outdoor space. The public market could reinforce the importance of food to our local economy by showcasing local products, particularly value-added products, year-round.
I don’t know if a public market could be successful in Kamloops but I think it is something that is worth exploring in more detail. If there are enough businesses and vendors willing to use such a space and the capital financing can be put in place, then I think this is a really solid idea. I applaud the folks getting behind this Kamloops Public Market idea for presenting this vision and facilitating the dialogue in the community. Yes the Kamloops Farmers Market is important to the community fabric but we shouldn’t fear change. If we want Kamloops to evolve, we need people bringing creative and bold ideas like this to the table.