The much anticipated Easton Public Market is here. Despite a few challenges along the road to opening, the indoor food market focused on local producers is poised to become a true destination experience and the first of its kind in the area. Thanks to the hard work of Market District Director Megan McBride and countless others, Easton is becoming a hub of the new food culture in the Valley.
In this issue’s “ask,” Megan sits down with us to discuss her vision of the “game changing” Easton Public Market.
DN- Can you give us a brief overview of what the Public Market is?
MM- Our goal is really to position it as a high quality grocery experience like you would get in the old days, with your fish monger and your butcher, really getting to know your food producers, and combining that with this hip modern design experience. Then combine that with education, teaching people about local food and preparing local food. The gentleman that we have running the farm stand, a large part of his passion is teaching people about the importance of local food to their diet. We will have farmers coming into the farm stand to speak to the public.
DN- Tell us about your job with the Market.
MM- I am Easton Market District Director, previously manager of the outside Farmers’ Market and now will be manager of the outside and inside, which we are calling the Easton Market District. We are looking at building a synergy between the two and our goal is certainly on Saturdays that people come into town and visit both markets and we will be marketing them as such.
DN- How is the Greater Easton Development Partnership (the GEDP) involved?
MM- The GEDP is the non profit economic development arm of the city. We work at making the city of Easton a more live-able and workable place to live.
Under the GEDP is the Easton Farmers’ Market, Easton Public Market, the Easton Ambassador program and the Easton Main Street Initiative. All four of those programs work in synergy to create that kind of live-able community.
DN- Describe a day in the life of your job currently.
MM- Everything from working with vendors to curating the right vendor mix for the outside and inside. Our goal is to carry out the values that we have in place for the outside market to the inside market and to create the same type of vibrant community gathering space. I look for ways to support local growers and producers and capitalize on our current food culture, and at the same time, to use the Market as an economic driver for the downtown. Largely our purpose for the public market was to provide a grocery shopping opportunity for the many people who are moving downtown. This is going to be a destination, there is nothing like it outside of Philadelphia or New York City.
DN- Do you have a vision for future expansion of the Public Market?
MM- In my mind, we could provide shared use commercial kitchen space, we have a very large basement down there. One of he things people are looking for is production space-those who are looking for commercial kitchens, we could do a lot more of that, that is something to help sustain the GEDP. We are also looking at the possibility of some food hubs in the West Ward.
A food hub is a place where local producers and growers can bring their product and it gets distributed to local restaurants and grocery stores, schools, nursing homes etc…
Right now restaurants carry some local product but not primarily local, so we would like to set up a food hub that is all local product.
DN- Where did the idea for the Public Market come from?
MM- We saw the need for more of a year round local food option. Obviously the success of the farmer’s market inspired us.
DN- What sort of markets did you look to for inspiration?
MM- There were a lot of things we liked about the Reading Terminal Market but we see our market as more locally driven and more modern if you will. We also looked a lot at the Boston Public Market. They are the first market to use all local product. 80 percent of their market is local and not tourism related. We looked at markets in Barcelona as a model and how they impact their local community. They are not about tourism. They are about supporting the neighborhoods.
DN- How did you go about choosing vendors?
MM- We had a vendor casting call, where we interviewed vendors from 8 in the morning, non stop until 11 at night. We would see all the wineries, all the chocolatiers, the bakers…We sampled food product, interviewed the owners…It was really almost like an audition. Our goal was to find the best of the best in every category. Some are carry-overs from the outside market, who are choosing to keep their space outside and in.
“We see it as a game changer for the downtown… This is going to be a destination, there is nothing like it outside of New York or Philadelphia.”
DN- What about the critics who say the Market won’t support everyone?
MM- The farm stand will accept SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and people can come with their EBT card and shop the farm stand, but really a step further, we will be offering the double dollars program, where we will be doubling anyone’s purchase that they make with the EBT card. You come and spend 20 dollars at the farm stand, and we will give you 20 dollars in tokens to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables at the outside market.
We are also working with our other vendors to hopefully help our other vendors to be set up to accept SNAP benefits.
We are working with the hunger coalition to do Sunday Suppers, to do free and low cost dinners to those in need. Our objective is to be good neighbors with the rest of the community.
DN- Will the goods offered at the Market be of varied price ranges?
MM- I think that there will be a balance of pricing in the market, it is more of a higher end market in some ways, but the farm stand is going to be offering a lot of whole food type staples that will be affordable to everyone. Our goal is to make it affordable to everyone and that is always in the back of our mind.
DN- How was the Public Market funded?
MM- A variety of sources-a combination of state funding, a grant from the city of Easton to purchase the building, various partnerships, grants from foundations (Sylvia Perkins, Wells Fargo), a lot of monies were cobbled together for this project.
DN- The building next store to the Market had a wall collapse during recent heavy rains. How has that effected the Market opening?
MM- It’s been challenging, it’s not something we saw coming. Fortunately our vendors have been wonderful about it. The public has been great and really supportive. We felt really bad about the delay, but it just shows how excited people are about this project and they feel for us and the situation that’s going on. It seems to be moving quickly. Regardless, we are excited to have the restaurant that will be moving in next to us.
I know that there are merchants that are concerned about it, but in the long run I think it is going to bring a whole new batch of people. We have been really careful and we measured the growth and did this when we were ready for it. We can really support both markets, both indoor and outdoor. Hopefully, it is a win-win. Am I nervous? Yeah.
DN- What will the Public Market’s hours be?
MM- Wednesday through Saturday will be 9 to 7, except for ready to eat vendors that will be open to 10. And Sunday is 9 to 3. We will be doing some later hours in conjunction with State Theatre events and so on. And our coffee vendor and bakery will be open earlier than 9.
DN- What about the working demonstration kitchen? Tell us about that.
MM- “The Kitchen” (sponsored by Easton Hospital) is a way to showcase our local restaurants and chefs. We will have chefs come in doing demonstrations. There will be a whole series on PA Dutch cooking, Italian cooking…there will be times you can come in and dine with the chef and watch them cooking and talk one on one with them throughout. It will be a really nice way to work with our partner chefs. The Public Market will be expanding beyond just Easton chefs to chefs throughout the valley. The cooking classes are a big part of that. There will be children’s classes, things during the day for seniors and moms, things for couples at night, classes about cooking on a budget, sponsored by Crayola…
DN- How much seating will be available at the Market?
MM- Almost all the ready to eat vendors have counter seating. Then we have a community room, pocket seating, outdoor seating in the front, and we are looking at doing some in the back.
DN- What is your vision for the future of the market?
MM- One of the things we are really looking forward to doing is local food culture tours. We are looking at offering tours of the outside market, the inside market and then taking people around downtown, stopping in and talking to a chef in the restaurants, talking about the days of the speak easys and running pipelines down the Delaware. There is this very rich food culture and the farming culture. We actually just got a call about another company that wants to do a tour. We will do bus tours. We see it as really a game changer for the downtown. Just as the outside market has been an anchor on Saturdays, hopefully this will be a five day a week anchor.
DN- What will this do for Easton?
MM- I think it’s going to introduce a whole new crowd of people to Easton. We are looking at getting people from the Philadelphia area and outside the Valley. People came in for the Farmers’ market and looked around and said “Hey, this is a pretty cool town.” I see this as doing that at ten times that level.
The Easton Public Market
325 Northampton St
Easton, PA, 18042
*full disclosure: Anthony J. Marraccini, the Publisher of the Elucidator, is on the board of directors of the GEDP, the parent organization of the Easton Public Market.
About the Contributors
Dawn Ouellette Nixon
Dawn Ouellette Nixon is the Editor of the Elucidator. She also pens the "ask" interview column and the occasional feature. She lives on College Hill in…
Cassandra Srager is a freelance photographer currently based in the Lehigh Valley area and a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts of New York City.