Just a few days ago the City of Winston-Salem posted a video on its YouTube channel. On the video Regina Hall announced that the Liberty Street Market is available to rent for just $45 a day.
The Liberty Street Market has been an unqualified disaster since it opened in the Northeast Ward two years ago this month. Planning and construction costs for the project costs city taxpayers over $350,000.
The Liberty Street Market was described as “not just a market-a destination” by the market’s manager, Mercedes L. Miller. In an op-ed in the Winston-Salem Chronicle Miller described in detail, her experiences in great markets in the U.S. and around the world. She stated that it was her intention to create a great market on Liberty Street.
She promised it would host a variety of vendors selling fresh produce and a variety of goods and services beneficial to the community. But less than a year later (September, 2015) Miller pulled out of the Liberty Street Market, leaving the market used for the past year except for non-rent paying charities.
Triad City Beat reporter Jordan Green has done some excellent work on the Liberty Street Market’s failure. No one covers East Winston like Jordan Green. Green pointed out that the market never attracted any produce vendors. The market’s location at 1591 N Liberty Street is a Food Desert. The Northeast Ward desperately needs healthy food options, including fresh produce and the Liberty Market failed to deliver on that one simple goal.
After the Liberty Street Market closed people began to ask why it failed. According to the Chronicle, local residents didn’t like the fence around the market. They found it a little fortress like. Critics pointed to the political connections between Councilwoman Vivian Burke and Mercedes L. Miller. Burke was also criticized for not commissioning a new economic study before opening Liberty Street Market. The study the city relied on was almost 20 years old.
But I think the biggest problem with the Liberty Street Market was the city’s lack of vision. They tried to build the bare minimum structure necessary. The market is essentially two glorified picnic shelters. One of the shelters is enclosed, the other one isn’t. But even the enclosed shelter isn’t very viable in during the winter months.
The location of the Liberty Street Market would have been an ideal location for the city to fund a co-op, similar to the Renaissance Co-op in Greensboro. A co-op could help solve a multitude of problems including food sovereignty and unemployment in the community. A co-op could also pave the way for future development along the Liberty Street Corridor.
But that was road not taken. The city has to decide what to do with the mess it made on Liberty Street. The city has to face the fact that for the foreseeable future Liberty Street Market isn’t going to be a viable commercial venture. Instead of $45 a day to rent the market, they should make the market free to vendors who are selling products that the community needs, as well as charities that are helping to meet the community’s needs.
The city could dramatically increase community gardens in Winston and sell the excess produce at the Liberty Street Market. Perhaps they could give tax breaks to city residents who plant gardens and sell their produce at the Liberty Street Market. The city could encourage concerts and community events at the Liberty Street Market in the spring and summer months to increase foot traffic.
The city can make Liberty Street Market work if they admit the market isn’t viable as a commercial venture. They should convert the Liberty Street Market into the Liberty Street Community Market. It could work.