GR Downtown Market Tries Striking A Balance With Existing Communities

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. –  On Monday evening, the ceremonial ribbon was cut on the farmer’s market portion of the newly built Downtown Market.

Located at the corner of Ionia Street and Wealthy Street on the South side of Grand Rapids, the market is set to open this Saturday.

The market was built with a combination of public and private dollars, the Grand Action Committee hopes it will be the start of the revitalization part of downtown.

It borders Heartside Park, and many of the homeless outreach programs in Grand Rapids.

Many feel the location of the new market may pose challenges and opportunities for everybody involved.

When it opens on Saturday, May 4th, 70 vendors selling homemade and homegrown goods will be available for customers.

Two years ago, the Downtown Market was born out of an idea.

George Aquino, the chair of the Downtown Market Board, said, “There are 12,000 farms (surrounding the Grand Rapids area) and they all need a venue to promote what they are producing.”

Now the idea of a market is taking shape.

Aquino said, “The main part is the main market.  We are going to have 23 vendors there.  And we are going to have a restaurant that is going to be a farm to table restaurant, then a brewery in the back end.  On the second floor we are going to have the first children’s kitchen in the US.  We are going to have an event space where you can have meetings and weddings.”

The indoor portion of the market is set to open this summer, but it’s unfinished state now is in sharp contrast to the shuttered look of the buildings surrounding it.

“If you look at this area here you are going to start seeing changes here,” said Aquino.  “We are going to have this discussion five years from now and it’s going to be a whole different place.”

This change started with members of the Downtown Market Board enlisting the help of social services in the area, like Degage Ministries, which does extensive outreach with the homeless in the city.

Degage’s Executive Director, Marge Palmerlee, was at the ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday.

Palmerlee said, “We are looking to have the development with diversity, to have inclusiveness with neighbors, sharing with neighbors.”

Palmerlee admits, she was skeptic when she first heard of the plans to locate the market near Heartside Park.

She said above all, she wanted inclusiveness, “Make sure everyone is treated with dignity and respect and to make sure the voice is heard from all people.”

So far, Palmerlee said she has been impressed with the cooperation and even sees room for future partnerships.

“Whether that is working with the farmers to have some of the excess produce to serve those who may not have access to that produce or seeing what kind of job opportunities there can be for those on the lower end of the skill level,” she said.

The farmer’s market will open to the public at 8:00am on Saturday.  The indoor portion of the market is expected to open in August.

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