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Does Austin already have a public market downtown?

Addie Broyles

I spent all day yesterday thinking about farmers markets and public marketplaces.

The number of pop-up farmers markets in Austin have grown from only a handful to more than a 12 in the past 10 years, which means you can buy a locally grown carrot or cantaloupe from Kyle to Georgetown.

Having half-day markets in neighborhoods seems fine and dandy, but some Austinites are dreaming about a public market downtown, inspired by the likes of Pike Place Market in Seattle or Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco and the grand markets of Europe.

I, too, would love a place where I can stroll with my fellow denizens among grand aisles bearing every fruit, fish, spice, meat, bread, cheese or vegetable one could want, any day of the week. A place where you can visit with the people who had a hand in growing or harvesting your food, and where you could just pop in to hear live music over lunch or to pick up a locally brewed kombucha and a few ingredients for dinner.

But as I started to think about the challenges — you can read my story from today’s Statesman about the pros and cons of such a market in Austin — and what it might look like, realistically, within the confines of downtown Austin, I started to realize that maybe we already have a public market downtown that fills at least some of this niche.

It is called Whole Foods?

I’m not being a Whole Foods cheerleader here, and there are smaller neighborhood markets to champion, like Rosewood and In.gredients, but it would take a major effort to rebuild a public market for downtown and Whole Foods is already a must-stop on tourists’ radar.

(One of the original markets, City Market House, above, used to be located where police headquarters now. UPDATE: It opened in 1935 and closed in 1952, but I haven’t been able to figure out when the building was torn down or why it closed.)

Apparently I’m not the only person with this idea. A commenter on asked if Whole Foods is the “yuppie” destination the consultant was after, and left a complaint that I was dissing the downtown market and cheerleading the effort to make this public market happen. Those last two comments couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’m open to ideas, but there are many, many hurdles to clear for this to become feasible for Austin.

What do you think about the idea? Do you think the downtown farmers’ market needs a new home? Do you think there’s room (both literally and culturally) for a public marketplace downtown?