City Market vendors hang on during construction slow down

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First, vendors inside the historic City Market faced the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown which forced many merchants to shutter their stalls in the 134-year-old building known for lunch, coffee and specialty retail.

Then there was the aftermath of the spring riots which caused more than $5 million in property damage and left downtown covered with plywood as workers and visitors to the city’s core stayed away in droves.

Now, just as Indianapolis slowly begins crawling back from coronavirus dining restrictions and thousands of Marion County residents flock to the City-County Building to cast their ballots in early voting, the first month of promenade construction which has closed down Market Street between the Market and the CCB once again threatens the livelihoods of vendors who have struggled to financially stay afloat during the last six months.

“The City Market is trying to find ways to work with us but we’ve really had to find other ways to make money,” said Peter Heinz of Gomez BBQ. “We’ve done more with catering, local food services, delivery services. I don’t know, another year of this if things don’t change, it’s tough for a lot of people here.”

There are more empty stalls or merchants who simply don’t open for business every day in the vicinity of The Flower Boys in the center of the Market.

“It’s made it more difficult,” said Jocelyn Harmes, surrounded by flowers and reflecting on the $7.4 million Market Street promenade project which has blocked off the City Market’s front doors for at least the next year. “Some days we sell out completely and we know people are getting back in the office, other days we don’t sell as much as we predicted and just not having those big businesses down here has impacted that.”

It is estimated less than 20% of downtown’s typical workforce has returned to the office and many companies say they won’t invite their employees back until next summer.

“I see that the traffic has picked up during our lunchtime hours,” said Catherine Esselman who signed on as the Market’s Interim Executive Director last month. “We’ve done a couple lunchtime activations since Market Street has been closed called ‘Live at the Plaza’ every other Thursday where we’ve had music here on our stage on both sides, both East and West Plaza, as well as some artist engagement opportunities.”

Additional signage provides detours for pedestrians to enter the Market from its side doors and a call has gone out to local artists to submit proposals for painting the large concrete traffic barriers that block both ends of the street in front of the Market.

“There are plans to install public art on the east and west wings of this facility and we are embracing the construction that is going on and just wanting to transform this place and beautify it and make it more visually appealing,” said Deonna Craig, a visual artist.

Proposals for the barrier artwork must be submitted at indycm.com by the end of the week.

Esselman said she is trying to help vendors who are short on cash but still responsible for rent and utility payments to the Market to apply for CARES Act small business grants administered through the Indy Chamber at https://www.response.indychamber.com/helpgrants.

“We are trying to find some grant relief opportunities for our tenants to help get them through the last part of 2020.”

The Chamber advises the maximum $25,000 grants will be rewarded on a first-come/first-served basis which would necessitate confirmation from property owners that dining and hospitality industry tenants qualify for rent relief.

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