Indy City Market since 2009: an obvious improvement, but still room to grow.

I originally posted an article on the Indianapolis City Market on my personal blog, American Dirt, two days ago.  I had written an extensive study on the 125-year-old Market back in 2009 on that blog, so it made sense for any follow-up to take place there as well.  But then it occurred to me that the subject is more cogent and probably of greater interest to Urban Indy readers, so the least I can do is provide a link as well as a summary here below.


As anyone who either grew up in Indy knows, the City Market has never exactly been the crown jewel of downtown.  By and large, it has always been a dreary, moribund place: lots of vacant stores, scant visitors, and prevailing sense that the leadership had no idea what to do with the space to breathe some life into it.  It had about five times as much seating as it would ever need for its meager patronage.  As recently as 2009, when I wrote my first blog article (pondering what could be done to inject some life the place), it looked like this:

City market 028

City market 025 edit

City market 035 edit

Not an inspiring sight, and it looked this way more or less as long as I can remember.  The venue had limped along for decades through city subsidies.  Numerous attempts to induce a turnaround had flopped, and at the time of my previous articles, the City was even considering closing the entire building down altogether.


What a difference a few years can make.  Since that article, the City and market management collaborated to reorganize the space dramatically, consolidating the surviving tenants and transforming two auxiliary wings (additions from the 1970s) into space that now hosts completely unrelated business.  My full article at American Dirt describes the machinations behind this metamorphosis in greater detail, but needless to say the place has improved significantly.





[The final photo is courtesy of fellow Urban Indy blogger Graeme Sharpe.]

The vendor space is now less than 10% vacant.  The diversity of selections has improved vastly, and the tenants typically stay open through the remainder of the afternoon.  (Previously, it was hard for them to justify staying open much past 2pm, because they only received a modest jolt of business during the lunch hour.)  Some vendors have even extended their hours into the evening, while a taphouse featuring local brews has opened on the previously deserted mezzanine, ensuring a consumer base for the food vendors that decide to remain open later into the evening.


The City Market now is a pretty lively place.  But is it at its peak?  I don’t want perfect to be the enemy of the good, but I also hate to see this city resign itself toward mediocrity once again.  The building still has a few dead spaces that no one seems to know what to do with, like the one below:


There aren’t many of these, but nothing has really improved at these spaces in the last six months.  Has the City Market plateaued; is it finished improving?  The opportunities for more are clearly visible when one compares the old tenants (those that survived through the decades-long dark period) and the new ones (that have arrived in the last one or two years).  Essentially, the older tenants routinely take up much more space than the new ones.  What does this mean?  My suspicion is it has to do with the leasing agreements.  A simple tweaking of these leases, so that per-square-foot costs rise in sync with market demand, would make all the difference in the world.  The management still has a gift-horse opportunity looking itself in the mouth.


I explore the possibilities for the City Market at much greater length in my blog article, complete with a variety of photographs.  Again, here is the link to the full article.  I encourage Urban Indy regulars to read it.  As always, comments are welcomed; I’ll respond either here at Urban Indy or on American Dirt.  I also look forward to hearing other people’s suggestions for further improvement.  The future of the Indianapolis City Market is rosier than it has been in almost half of a century, but to claim it is already at full bloom is complacent.  This beautiful old building could host one of the best.

Comments 7

  • Even in my short time of urban relevance, I have noticed a great deal of change and energy in the City Market. The Tap Room was a significant step forward towards creating a “24 hour” venue, vs. a lunch spot. While organizing and assisting with the monument circle idea competition, I thought of how great it would be to have the City Market located in the frst floor of some of the surrounding buildings on the circle. I imagined large garage door windows that would open onto the circle and a narrow hall that would run within. People always say the circle is great, but what keeps people there? Many of the same people say the market is great, but it is empty and off the beaten path. Imagine the two in unison…..

    Dream over. I assume with further development east of the market, more foot traffic will drive more interest and a continued reinvestment in the market.

  • The Winter Farmers Market probably has a ripple effect on market traffic other days as well. The IWFM is a destination event. As more people go to it, it is natural that they check out the rest of the market. If they like what they find, they’ll then return for those offerings on their own.

  • Thanks for the comments. Sounds like you both agree that, considering the constraints created by the permanent locations of the City Market and Monument Circle, the best compensation is further density of activity. I have never been to the IWFM, but if it truly is a destination event, that is exactly the sort of energy the City Market needs to galvanize the foot traffic that could foster even further healthy competition among the vendors. With further competition, it could become an elite marketplace, rather than a merely good one. Note that I say “elite” and not “elitist”: as long as it remains true to its aims as a place for produce and freshly prepared foods to eat as you go, the convenience-shopping paradigm should prevent it from only catering to a refined clientele. The Reading Terminal Market, for example (once again), sells those ridiculously expensive mushrooms, but also something as modest and simple as shoo fly pie.

    • The IWFM is definitely a destination event for downtowners. I don’t know about beyond that. But Saturday mornings in the market are bustling with commerce and community. You stop by to pick up some kale and end up talking to neighbors for 30 minutes as well.

  • Glad to see market hours change over the years along with the food options. We need something near the city market to draw foot traffic as well. Boston has retail near Quincy Market, just an idea.

  • The banners display flowers, raw steak, fresh bread, and a lollipop…none of which you can buy in the market.

  • Thanks again for the comments. For the record, Kevin, I do think the City Market does at times sell flowers. As for the others, you’re absolutely right, as far as I can tell.

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