I’m ashamed to admit that I had never been to Rochester’s Public Market until this semester as a senior. Since that first time, however, I have been back almost every week – I’ve caught the Market bug that lingers indefinitely in most patrons.
Upon entering the Market, you’re immediately confronted by vendors yelling out products and prices. On Saturdays, the Market’s busiest day, shoppers amiably chat with each other while also quickly moving from station to station. You can walk at your own pace, but when caught in the crowd, you can feel it pushing you forward, onto the next station. Regulars and those shopping for a family are distinguished by wagons which harbor their enormous loads of food items. Because almost everything at the Market costs just a dollar – a bag of apples, pears, a few peppers, 10-20 ears of corn – it’s easy to become weighed down.
The Market, however, isn’t just a place to buy fresh fruit, vegetables, meats and fish, but is a unique place in Rochester where you can observe an economically, socially and racially diverse group of people working and shopping together. The Market is an institution in Rochester, and its role in bridging the gaps between class and race and vendor and customer has caught the attention of Rochester native and artist Maria Friske. She characterizes the Market as “the most beautiful song the city sings because it is a visual smorgasbord of people’s faces, diversity, community, history and harvest.”
Not only is the Market a venue to shop and bridge various communities, but its physical location also helps to connect the upper and lower class populations.
“It’s interesting that the Market is in one of the most economically depressed neighborhoods of the city where most people would not normally feel comfortable, but everybody shows up at the Market on Thursdays and Saturdays,” Dan Apfel ’06 and current employee of market vendor Rich Port Pastries and Breads said.
As a student at UR, it’s easy to forget that we are a part of a larger community that extends beyond our physical campus. Not only are we a part of the diverse community of the city and its suburbs, but we are also a part of a large commercial agricultural and wine-producing area. The vendors, some Amish farmers and organic farmers, others free-range chicken raisers, come from all around the region to sell their products at the Market. By frequenting the Market, we are better able to understand and connect to this vast region in which we live.
While the Market is visited by Rochester locals and residents of surrounding communities, Joe Palozzi, owner of Java Joe’s, speculates that with a greater diversity of products, a greater number of patrons would frequent the Market.
“[We’re] not getting specialty items to the Market,” he says. “We need specialty items to attract more people.” He cites the presence of the heirloom tomato vendor as an example of the types of vendors that would improve the overall quality of the market.
The already existing community among vendors and patients alike, however, is undeniable and is even noticeable to a first-time market-goer. While vendors are immersed in trying to sell their products, they take the time to socialize with their customers. I have never encountered a vendor who did not seem to sincerely enjoy discussing his product and how to use it in various dishes, or why it is important to buy it at this specific time of year. If they don’t have a particular item, they will tell you who has it. There is a type of camaraderie that exists among the vendors – all of whom are working toward a common goal of selling good, well-priced food products.
The Public Market, which has been located at 280 North Union Street since 1905, is open throughout the year on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and select Sundays. Some of the specialty shops, however, that form the border of the Market are open more often. You can get to the Market by car or by taking the 75 Green line on Saturdays.
Katz is a member of the class of 2007.