What is a Public Market?

​Public Markets are those wonderful year-round, multi-vendor markets that primarily deal in food. The merchants within tend to be independent owner-operators who are often, but not always, involved in the production of the products they sell.

​Prepared food vendors are a staple of Public Markets. With shared seating areas creating an informal café and gathering place, the market’s prepared food vendors greatly increase foot traffic at mealtimes.

​Public Markets can take many forms; the term itself is sometimes attached to an enterprise that ventures far from the basic concept described here. Sometimes the mix of vendors leans more toward crafts and collectibles and might be more accurately described as a flea market. Or, should the prepared food vendors dominate, the atmosphere might more closely resemble a food court than a market. We may include markets that stretch our fundamental definition of a Public Market but, when we do, we’ll let you know.

What about Farmers Markets?

​We love the seasonal weekend Farmers Markets that have so successfully proliferated in recent years. They’ve provided new income streams for farmers and artisan producers as well as healthy food-shopping options for consumers. But, for now, we will pay minimal attention to these great places.

​The world of Farmers Markets is constantly changing, with hundreds of them coming on board or moving each year. It’s estimated that there are over 6,000 Farmers Markets in the US alone, with over 150 just in the Los Angeles area.

​On this site we’ve provided access to a database of these markets (with the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) but we’ve decided to not attempt any sort of comprehensive coverage of this huge and fluid sector of the marketplace. We’ll leave it to your local municipalities and fresh-food advocates to keep you informed and involved with your local Farmers Markets.

​Of course, some farmers markets have evolved into places that are so stable and permanent that we must include them in the world of year-round Markets (think: Union Square Greenmarket in New York City, or the Santa Monica Farmers Market in California). And in many countries outside the U.S. and Canada, the Public Markets often resemble our own Farmers Markets in that they might be mostly outdoors and the merchants’ stands can be far from permanent. But they’re there year-round, several days a week, with a historical permanence that might go back hundreds of years. These places are where the people shop, and we embrace them in the family of Public Markets.

What else can you buy at a Public Market?

​Aside from the fresh food vendors dealing in produce, meats and poultry, dairy and cheese, there usually exists a variety of value-added products such as baked goods, specialty product lines, coffees, spices, etc. But there usually are additional vendors dealing in a variety of non-food goods and services.

​You might find a newsstand or a flower shop, perhaps a small bookstore or kitchen supply shop. You might even find a shoe repair or barber shop. There might be craft merchants; crafts may even dominate on one or two days per week. And Public Markets commonly have a Farmers Market element, with temporary farm stands adding to the merchant base during the growing and harvest seasons.​

Why would tourists go to a Public Market?

​Public Markets can often be an important tourist destination for travelers, frequently located in city centers surrounded by additional cultural attractions and public spaces. Some markets are so wildly popular with tourists that the locals try to shop during off-peak times to avoid them.

Travelers can rarely make use of fresh foods since they usually don’t have access to a kitchen, but it’s often a great place to grab a bite from a prepared food vendor, and it’s highly likely that it’ll be an opportunity to try some local specialty, a culinary adventure to add to your traveling experiences.

​Admittedly, some Public Markets are not at all meant for tourists and a visit to such a place might be uncomfortable when it presents too great a cultural clash. When we profile such a place we’ll try to be clear that it’s not a place that easily welcomes onlookers.

Local? Sustainable? Organic?

​There is a great deal of advocacy toward simplifying and purifying the processes involved in growing fruits and vegetables, raising our food animals, and creating the products that find their way to our kitchens. Increasing demands for organic, low-fat, hormone-free, grass-fed, sustainable, locally produced, and just plain healthy foods have altered the landscape of our food marketplaces.

​Some Public Markets strive to limit their offerings to these perceived “higher-value” products and to host only vendors that produce and deal in goods that achieve certain standards of quality. Others are happy to accommodate a wider range of merchants and resellers.

​At PublicMarkets.com we appreciate the great variety of vendors and consumers that participate in food commerce and we embrace the fact that there is much diversity in the products and preferences in the markets. We’ll do our best to let you know if there is a distinct “food culture” in a particular Public Market or if there are limits to certain types of vendors or products, but we’ll try to avoid judgment; we love them all!

Why not just go to the Grocery Store?

​Grocery stores are great for taking care of stocking your kitchen pantry. We couldn’t possibly suggest that you avoid them. Public Markets, however, add some great elements to the shopping experience. In a grocery store there’s one vendor: the company that owns the store. In a Public Market there are multiple vendors with a variety of ways of presenting you with their products. Competition within a market can enliven the atmosphere. There might be multiple green grocers or butchers or bakers giving you a greater variety in products and prices.

​There also might be various cultures and ethnicities represented in the merchant mix, creating variety you won’t find in a grocery store. Public Markets rarely allow chain stores or franchises but rather showcase local entrepreneurs and producers who might not otherwise be able to own and operate a stand-alone store. As such, markets serve as small business incubators, creating an opportunity for start-up businesses with minimal investment.

​Patronizing a Public Market might be good for the community. They often stimulate historic preservation in cities where the original market house is saved from demolition or the obsolete transportation hub is adapted to serve as a market. They can also take the form of a “Market District” involving perhaps many square blocks of complementary and inter-connected businesses.

Do you rate the markets on this site?

​We encourage visitors to this site to post comments and let us know what you think of the markets described here, but we at PublicMarkets.com don’t want to rate or grade the markets, implying that some are better than others.

​Public Markets are often shaped by the communities they serve and the products, the décor, the sights and sounds… even the prices reflect the local environment and culture. And while we each might have a preference for white or wheat, tart or sweet, surf or turf…we can’t deny the value of them all.

Can I contribute to the content on the site?

Yes!

We want very much for our visitors to propose content for posting to PublicMarkets.com. Even if you just want to send us an email suggesting we include a market we don’t yet have in our inventory, we’d love to hear from you.

Perhaps you know of a market in your neighborhood or have come across such a place in your travels. Maybe you even have some great photos of a market (or plan to shoot some); we’d love to see what you have. Please send us things you think we might like to include. We’re always looking for people to get involved, to even become a Market Correspondent.

To get this process rolling, please click here. Thanks for participating!