The Market Habit

It’s been three weeks now that the new Seaport Farmer’s Market is open in Halifax.

I wanted to write something about the opening weekend, excited by the hype of the new space, but it didn’t feel right. It would be like reviewing a restaurant on its opening day. There are bound to be hiccups.

I also felt the same way in writing about the old market, now called the Historic Halifax Farmer’s Market and occasionally still referred to as the Brewery Market. It was almost too early to dismiss the old girl. It’s like watching people visiting with the newborn, ignoring the older sister. It just didn’t seem right.

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t all that excited about the new Seaport Market. The organisers of the new market had tried to sustain the hype for almost two years. By the time it actually came to fruition, I felt like any pertinent information about this new space was lost. When would it be open? Who will be there, and who is staying at the old one? Someone tells me this, someone tells me that. I get a hold of my meat vendor who tells me that the doors would be open at seven. Fine. Seven it is.

Saturday is the only day I will willingly get up before seven am. The old market technically opened at seven, but I would always show up fifteen minutes early, if not earlier. Why? Because I want to avoid the insanity that is the market at its peak time, between 8:30 and 10:00. I want to avoid the crowds so I can talk to the people who are providing me with food. I want to talk to the guy who sells me veggies, ‘cause I want to know what’s coming next week, so I can plan a menu. I want to ask the meat guy if he can put a hanger steak aside for me next week, since someone got here even earlier than I did and took the last one. I want to get to the market before the restaurant chefs get the last bunches of purslane, the first baskets of physallis and the last box of zucchini blossoms.

So I get up at 6:15, drag myself out of bed, and drive from Dartmouth over to the new market. It feels strange driving down Hollis Street, and not stopping. I tell myself that I will still visit the old market, to see who is there, and to check out the new vendors.

I knew it was going to be busy on the first day. It has to be. I was worried that the market wouldn’t be open until seven and would have to wait outside. Thankfully, the traffic hadn’t picked up too much, but the parking lot at 6:45 was already full. I find a parking spot next to a meter, about a half a block away. I feel like I should be running. Get there before anyone else.

Walking in to the space, the first thing I see is light. Streams and streaks of light falling in and illuminating the space. I bump into my meat vendor. He is looking stressed. He arrived early – 5:30 a.m. – to set things up, but his fridge display unit is not where it’s supposed to be. So he and his wife move the unit – sans dolly – to its right place. But the electrical breakers keep jumping. And they were told they have to install a sink. Somehow, he manages a smile, a real smile when I ask him what he thinks of the place. “Beautiful”. He then runs off to grab more meat for the display case.

I decide to walk around, get my bearings before I start shopping. Through the floor to almost-ceiling windows, you can see George’s Island in the harbour. People are milling about, learning where everything is. Market people tend to be people of habit. You start here, then go there, buy this, visit this and THEN maybe, just maybe, go off your regular beaten path to check out something different.

Here, everything is different. There is no beaten path, no well-worn lines in the cement. There are still line-ups at the same stalls – a certain bakery has a line forming even before they have a third of their bread delivered – but it’s different. Very different. I didn’t know what to think when I first walked in. But as I look around, the space starts to feel warm, cosmopolitan. I feel like I can see the big picture of what this place is. Change.

But change isn’t for everyone. Especially the people who opted to stay at the old Historic Market in the former Keith’s brewery. I head on over to see who is still there, as well as who is new to the market.

It feels strange to be walking into this building and not be surrounded by people. People have moved their stalls to be closer together, so it takes a while to gather one’s bearings. But there are familiar faces, both among the vendors and the patrons. It becomes apparent that some of the vendors are selling at both places. I ask one vendor about it, and he says that for now, it just makes sense to do both if you can afford it.

I feel a little sad, and a little ashamed. I didn’t want to like the new market, but I do. I wanted the old market to do well, but based on my first visit, I don’t know. By the end of that Saturday, over 10,000 people will have walked through the Seaport Market. A friend of mine tells me that at one o’clock, there are easily over 1,000 people still there, wandering and gawking at the new space. When there was still only one market, by one o’clock, it would be dead, with most stalls closing up shop.

I go back the next week with a friend and devout market shopper. She and I drive down to the Seaport, but apparently, we have to park rather far away. Before we even make it inside, we’ve already heard someone complain about the parking situation and how the lack of access/streets to the seaport. It’s a conversation we will hear echoed inside.

It’s seven o’clock. The market is busy, but not ridiculously so. Not like last week. People seem to know where they are going and what they want. There are less heads looking up and around. Eyes are fixed, destinations known. People and vendors are getting their rhythms down.

My friend and I head down to the Brewery Market to pick up a few things. I find out that some people here are still waiting to open up their stalls at the Seaport Market. With sections of the new market unfinished, there are still a few vendors anxious to move their business to the new market. People here seem a little less tense. The vendors have started to cluster their stalls closer together, making the market feel a little less spread out. I feel like maybe we can have two markets.

On my third visit, things feel smoother. We get there before seven, the parking enforcers are either not awake yet or in a good mood, and we find a parking spot rather easily. I walk in, I know my route. Start here, go there, get this, get that. The ever important routine is beginning to establish itself.

I go to my meat vendor and ask him how things are. The first-week-frustrations are becoming a distant memory. “I sold out last week by 9:30. Everything. This week, I doubled the amount of meat I bring in”. I pick up a hanger steak and go on my merry way. I notice a few people have moved, including a very busy bread stand. I hear the owner is unhappy about moving to a different spot, but I can see why they had to move. Their lines are notoriously long and it only makes sense to move the stand to an area where the queue would not block other vendors. People are more relaxed this week. The shiny newness of the space is starting to fade, making room for the patina of use.

I head down to the old market, and see one of the farmers who sells at both places. He is optimistic. “I think we can do both markets. This can work”. As I buy chicken from a vendor who opted to stay here at the original market, she asks me what I think of the new space. I tell her how I had mixed feelings at first, unsure of what to make of it, and how I was worried about this market. But the more I go to both, the more I know that going to both markets will become a routine, just like my former Saturday morning routine. I will start at the seaport market, do my rounds, and then continue on to Brewery Market.

If we, as customers and consumers, created a demand for more food and more space for ourselves and our vendors, then we should take on the responsibility of what that means: to continue to be financially responsible for our food choices. I want to continue to support my poultry vendor, even if she isn’t at the new market. So I will make a point of coming here, spread my money around. Talk to farmer’s at both markets, meet with the new vendors here at the Brewery Market.

We have the opportunity to find new products, buy new foodstuffs and cultivate new relationships with the people who sell us our food.

And isn’t that what we wanted? More choices? More space to do it in? Well, now we have it. And I plan on taking advantage of it.