Broad Street Market bounces back with help from new leaders, diverse vendors
Less than five years ago, the Broad Street Market was struggling at times to stay open every week. It was twice shut down by rodent and roach problems; vacancy rates were high and long-time vendors were weighing moves out of the capital city.
Ryan Hummer, the fifth-generation owner of market staple Hummer’s Meats, said he was among those looking for a change.
But over the last few years, the market has benefited from the steady revitalization of its neighborhood, Midtown Harrisburg, which is drawing heavier foot traffic thanks to new establishments such as Zeroday Brewing Co., Susquehanna Art Museum and The Millworks restaurant and art gallery.
A lift also has come from new market leaders focused on recruiting a diverse mix of vendors that can attract new visitors and bring back former patrons. Also helpful has been a long talked-about transition to a nonprofit management structure, which was approved at the end of last year.
The two-building market, one brick and one stone with a courtyard between for seasonal vendors, has about 40 full-time vendors and is open Thursday through Saturday, attracting thousands of daily visitors.
Market leaders expect to lease a few remaining vendor spots in the coming months, which would mean a fully stocked market for the first time in more than a decade.
Vendors are not looking back, only forward, hoping for a fresh start at one of America’s oldest continuously operating farmers markets.
“It’s a nice thing to be a part of,” Hummer said in early March, coming off one of his best non-holiday weekends for sales in his 15 years as owner of Hummer’s. “When things are positive, it’s easy to be positive.”
Hummer’s, which has market stands and a retail location in Lancaster County, is up to eight employees again in Harrisburg. The company’s Broad Street Market staff was about half that size a few years ago, Hummer said.
Hummer said he sees a “hot” neighborhood in Midtown and a city on the rise after years of financial challenges. The market has long reflected the city’s struggle.
He credits market manager Beth Taylor and board President Chris Herr, who both came on in the fall of 2015, for being hands-on and responsive in getting the market back on track.
Neighbors helping neighbors
A short walk from Hummer’s, fishmonger John Kelly IV said business is strong enough that he is looking to expand his J.B. Kelly Seafood Connection operation to another market in the region. Kelly, who opened at Broad Street Market around Thanksgiving 2014, said he saw a market on the upswing when he made the move.
It’s now a lively place where vendors want to collaborate and promote one another, he said. For example, Kelly makes and sells a lobster macaroni and cheese dish that includes a special blend of cheese from Hummer’s as well as ingredients from two other market stands: pasta from Fasta & Ravioli Co. and heavy cream from Radish & Rye Food Hub.
He’s also developing relationships to supply fresh fish to other market eateries to support their burger, pizza and Greek food specials.
“It’s all about supporting your neighbor,” Kelly said. “And that helps the market.”
Kelly, who lives in Halifax in northern Dauphin County, started out as a teacher at a local private school. During time off from school, he found himself making nearly two dozen trips to Maine each year and bringing back enough wild-caught seafood for friends and family to offset the cost of his trips. He began buying more coolers and then a trailer to keep up with the demand. Eventually he left teaching behind for a full-time career in the seafood business.
He now orders fresh product shipped from Maine to Philadelphia, where he makes his pickups. Kelly also gets seafood from other points along the Eastern seaboard, as well as Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. He also has sold seafood at other seasonal farmers markets in the midstate and regularly caters beer and wine events, such as functions at Spring Gate Vineyard in Lower Paxton Township.
Kelly said he is confident that Broad Street Market’s best days are ahead. There are plans to expand seating at the market, make other building improvements and add more seasonal events in the market plaza on non-market days, as well as recruit other outdoor vendors.
The organization behind the market also is poised to make a splash.
The nonprofit entity created to run the venue, the Broad Street Market Alliance, is expected to have an easier time accessing state and federal grant money to help improve market buildings, officials said. Another group, Friends of the Broad Street Market, helps solicit donations.
The market had been run by the for-profit Broad Street Market Corp., part of Historic Harrisburg Association.
Market manager Beth Taylor so far has focused on filling up the buildings with vendors, while getting board volunteers acclimated to the new management structure. Moving forward, the board is looking to hire a grant writer to help land state and federal money. Plans are under way for a roof replacement and insulation work, among other capital improvements.
“We’re in the process of taking back the market,” said Taylor.
Almost missed out
Jennie O’Neill believes it’s only a matter of time before Broad Street Market is running like a well-oiled machine.
O’Neill owns Knead, a stand selling craft-made, hearth-fired pizza. Open since early 2017, Knead is one of at least nine businesses to pop up in the market’s stone building over the last year. A Puerto Rican food stand opened about the same time as Knead. Overall, more than a dozen businesses have moved in since Taylor took over. And more are expected.
A taco stand is slated to open this spring in the stone building, while a comfort-food business called Twisted Egg Roll is headed for the brick building.
“I got worried (about having a spot) when it started to fill up,” said O’Neill, who moved back to Harrisburg from New York three years ago.
But now that she has a stand and business has been strong, especially with the mild weather in February, she wants to see the market add more seating, namely during the busy lunch rush.
Longer hours and maybe an extra market day could also boost sales for businesses in the stone building, she said. “Personally, I would eat here every day.”
Taylor said an extra day, maybe Wednesday, is being considered, at least for the stone building. Bigger crowds toward market closing time – 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 4 p.m. on Saturday – could help make the case for a later close, she said.
Broad Street Market already participates in the monthly Third in the Burg, the third Friday of each month, when city businesses open their doors in the evening. The market stays open until 8 p.m. and foot traffic continues to grow.
Locating in the market was a no-brainer for Casey Callahan and Timishia Goodson, who opened Raising the Bar bakery last summer. The built-in foot traffic in the two market buildings was hard to pass up, Callahan said.
It would have been harder to have a bakery outside of the market, she said. Many market patrons find the bakery by accident when they are buying from other vendors, she added.
Callahan, a former pastry chef at Ciao Bakery, part of Bricco restaurant in downtown Harrisburg, said the market stand gives her the opportunity to be “part of something” in a Harrisburg neighborhood on the rise.
Midtown could still use a few more destination spots like the art museum and the Midtown Cinema, she said, but it’s getting there. For several years, the Midtown Scholar Bookstore was one of the few attractions.
Growing market vendors, meanwhile, could help advance the nonprofit group’s long-term goal of taking the market beyond Midtown, Herr said, citing the potential to set up weekly auxiliary markets in Allison Hill and other city neighborhoods that lack grocery stores.
“The challenge in the past was managing a market,” he said. “Now it’s managing a regional food system.”