Reviving New York's Historic Market

By Tejal Rao
Rao_Sept_8_office_post.jpg

Photo by Tejal Rao


The penciled map is the size of the whole desk and seems like it's been folded and unfolded, carefully, many times. It's a sketch of 80-odd food stalls that will be arranged in Lower Manhattan's South Street this Sunday.

Robert LaValva is not a time-traveling cartographer, though his Brooklyn office is filled with just enough maps of the past--and speculative future--that I consider the possibility. LaValva is the founder of New Amsterdam Market and, along with program developer Cerise Mayo, is finalizing the set up for this weekend's public market relaunch.

Unlike a farmer's market (where farmers sell directly to consumers), New Amsterdam will include a bunch of regional producers: butchers, bakers, cheese shops, wine-, popsicle-, pickle-, and chocolate-makers, and a tiny company that harvests four kinds of seaweed from off the coast of Maine. To name a few.

I map an imaginary course through the stalls: first, a stop at crunchy new pickle company Brooklyn Brine, then Hot Bread Kitchen for fresh tortillas to take home for dinner.

It won't be the city's first market of this kind, which is part of the point. Using some maps and old illustrations, LaValva explains to me how the first market popped up on New York's East River shoreline in 1642, when ferries shuttled farmers and their goods from Brooklyn across the narrowest part of the water, to lower Manhattan.

Market culture in New York grew steadily from there and was lovingly documented in the mid-1800s by butcher Thomas Devoe as it thrived by the water on South Street. In the last hundred years or so, the markets dwindled and disappeared. The stunning public buildings fell into disuse.

This weekend's market will be in the same spot as the original South Street markets, with the old Fulton Fish Market on one side and Peck's Slip on the other. And this veritable history sandwich reminds me of the hot sausage sandwiches at beautiful, buzzy Borough Market, tucked under London Bridge on the Southern shore of the Thames. That exact spot has been the city's most prized market location since the Roman military built the first London Bridge about 2,000 years ago.

LaValva, thoughtful, restless, unfolds an enormous map on the floor to illustrate his point. It's a regional map of the area, disorienting, with state lines practically invisible. LaValva explains that the market has been, and will be, a place for regional vendors to set up shop, interact, and most importantly, compete. "A market tied to the region," he says, "will help bind the city and the region in complex relationships."

He mentions Bo Bo's Poultry, founded by Richard Lee in 1985 and run these days by his daughter Anita Lee. The company, which began as a live poultry market under the Williamsburg Bridge and expanded to its own slaughterhouse, owns farms in Pennsylvania and New York within a 200 mile radius from its plant in Brooklyn, and supplies Chinatown with the majority of its whole fresh chickens.

Rao_Sept_8_butcher_post.jpg

Image Courtesy of Tejal Rao


Bo Bo's chickens are not certified organic. On the other hand, Anita Lee reads Michael Pollan, appreciates Polyface Farm principles, and gives her poultry quality grain and the chance to run around. Lee sells her chickens whole, plucked, with the head and feet intact. This means picky, thrifty shoppers can look each chicken in the eye and gauge its freshness, like a fish. How's that for competition?

New Amsterdam will be a monthly affair until December and, if enough support can be rallied, take its place as a permanent market in New York City. Could the same market revitalization London saw in the late '90s be in New York's future?

What I miss most about Borough Market is the restorative mid-shopping sandwich from the snack stalls set up under the bridge. I ask LaValva if there might be sausage sandwiches at New Amsterdam.

"Not this weekend," he says apologetically, "though there will be sausages. And we'll have new vendors every month, so who knows what might happen?"

Lingering over LaValva's rendition of South Street, I map an imaginary course through the stalls: first, a stop at crunchy new pickle company Brooklyn Brine, then Hot Bread Kitchen for fresh tortillas to take home for dinner. Next, Caroline Fidanza's new bakery Saltie, where I'll taste an olive oil pastry. Or two. And then Liddabit Sweets for some barley-honey lollipops. And pate de fruit. And salty caramels.

Of course, my map is useless. I'll pinball all over the market on Sunday, far too excited to stay on course.

The New Amsterdam Market will be open on Sunday, September 13 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at South Street, between Beekman Street and Peck Slip in New York City. For other market dates, visit the New Amsterdam Market's Web site.

Rao_Sept_8_office_post.jpg

Photo by Tejal Rao


The penciled map is the size of the whole desk and seems like it's been folded and unfolded, carefully, many times. It's a sketch of 80-odd food stalls that will be arranged in Lower Manhattan's South Street this Sunday.

Robert LaValva is not a time-traveling cartographer, though his Brooklyn office is filled with just enough maps of the past--and speculative future--that I consider the possibility. LaValva is the founder of New Amsterdam Market and, along with program developer Cerise Mayo, is finalizing the set up for this weekend's public market relaunch.

Unlike a farmer's market (where farmers sell directly to consumers), New Amsterdam will include a bunch of regional producers: butchers, bakers, cheese shops, wine-, popsicle-, pickle-, and chocolate-makers, and a tiny company that harvests four kinds of seaweed from off the coast of Maine. To name a few.

I map an imaginary course through the stalls: first, a stop at crunchy new pickle company Brooklyn Brine, then Hot Bread Kitchen for fresh tortillas to take home for dinner.

It won't be the city's first market of this kind, which is part of the point. Using some maps and old illustrations, LaValva explains to me how the first market popped up on New York's East River shoreline in 1642, when ferries shuttled farmers and their goods from Brooklyn across the narrowest part of the water, to lower Manhattan.

Market culture in New York grew steadily from there and was lovingly documented in the mid-1800s by butcher Thomas Devoe as it thrived by the water on South Street. In the last hundred years or so, the markets dwindled and disappeared. The stunning public buildings fell into disuse.

This weekend's market will be in the same spot as the original South Street markets, with the old Fulton Fish Market on one side and Peck's Slip on the other. And this veritable history sandwich reminds me of the hot sausage sandwiches at beautiful, buzzy Borough Market, tucked under London Bridge on the Southern shore of the Thames. That exact spot has been the city's most prized market location since the Roman military built the first London Bridge about 2,000 years ago.

LaValva, thoughtful, restless, unfolds an enormous map on the floor to illustrate his point. It's a regional map of the area, disorienting, with state lines practically invisible. LaValva explains that the market has been, and will be, a place for regional vendors to set up shop, interact, and most importantly, compete. "A market tied to the region," he says, "will help bind the city and the region in complex relationships."

He mentions Bo Bo's Poultry, founded by Richard Lee in 1985 and run these days by his daughter Anita Lee. The company, which began as a live poultry market under the Williamsburg Bridge and expanded to its own slaughterhouse, owns farms in Pennsylvania and New York within a 200 mile radius from its plant in Brooklyn, and supplies Chinatown with the majority of its whole fresh chickens.

Rao_Sept_8_butcher_post.jpg

Image Courtesy of Tejal Rao


Bo Bo's chickens are not certified organic. On the other hand, Anita Lee reads Michael Pollan, appreciates Polyface Farm principles, and gives her poultry quality grain and the chance to run around. Lee sells her chickens whole, plucked, with the head and feet intact. This means picky, thrifty shoppers can look each chicken in the eye and gauge its freshness, like a fish. How's that for competition?

New Amsterdam will be a monthly affair until December and, if enough support can be rallied, take its place as a permanent market in New York City. Could the same market revitalization London saw in the late '90s be in New York's future?

What I miss most about Borough Market is the restorative mid-shopping sandwich from the snack stalls set up under the bridge. I ask LaValva if there might be sausage sandwiches at New Amsterdam.

"Not this weekend," he says apologetically, "though there will be sausages. And we'll have new vendors every month, so who knows what might happen?"

Lingering over LaValva's rendition of South Street, I map an imaginary course through the stalls: first, a stop at crunchy new pickle company Brooklyn Brine, then Hot Bread Kitchen for fresh tortillas to take home for dinner. Next, Caroline Fidanza's new bakery Saltie, where I'll taste an olive oil pastry. Or two. And then Liddabit Sweets for some barley-honey lollipops. And pate de fruit. And salty caramels.

Of course, my map is useless. I'll pinball all over the market on Sunday, far too excited to stay on course.

The New Amsterdam Market will be open on Sunday, September 13 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at South Street, between Beekman Street and Peck Slip in New York City. For other market dates, visit the New Amsterdam Market's Web site.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/09/reviving-new-yorks-historic-market/24622/