Four years ago, the Broad Street Market’s board of directors seriously considered padlocking the original, stone market building.
Most vendor slots were empty, and customers were sparse. So, the reasoning went, it would be more economical to just close the building and move the remaining vendors into the brick building, which had plenty of empty space of its own.
But the brick building had issues, too, closed twice over two years to battle vermin infestations.
Today, you would never know that any of this had occurred.
On market days, the crowds inside both buildings can be so thick that it’s often difficult to find a place to sit down and, for the first time in many decades, the market is 100-percent occupied, every vendor space filled.
Stroll through the once almost-shuttered stone building, and you have your choice of cuisine from around the world: African, Jamaican, Korean, Polish, Indian, Puerto Rican, Greek. There’s barbecue, pizza, baked goods, ice cream, cheesesteaks, seafood, even craft beer, some of the tastiest things you’ll find in central PA.
Beth Taylor, who’s managed the market for more than three years, has led this transformation. Two days ago, she told her vendors that she would be leaving her post effective Dec. 15. Hers will be tough shoes to fill.
Managing the Broad Street Market may rank among the hardest jobs in Harrisburg. Sure, it sounds like fun—managing a farmers market—but, in reality, it’s often grueling, thankless work, with long hours and no end of problems.
In a given week, thousands of people pass through the market, and they must leave satisfied. The manager also must keep happy dozens of vendors, who are independent business people with their own needs, desires, hopes and dreams. She also must manage the staff, ensure cleanliness, keep order, provide safety and maintain the 150-year-old buildings, no small tasks given the weekly mob scene.
Then there are the bosses.
Ultimately, the manager must answer to a nonprofit board of directors, whose members have their own thoughts and priorities. To add a wrinkle, the market buildings are still owned by the city, and some city officials want their own say in how things are run.
So does the community.
The Broad Street Market may be the one entity that nearly everyone in this diverse, divisive town claims as their own. Therefore, residents all have opinions about the market—the vendors, the parking, the prices, what it should be, what it shouldn’t be.
Think of your own job. Do you need, every day, to balance the wishes, needs and demands of thousands of patrons, dozens of vendors, a staff, a board of directors, city officials and some 50,000 residents? Probably not.
The market manager needs to be tough and smart and diplomatic, with both broad vision and concern for the smallest detail, as well as an ability to inspire and lead others. And sometimes she needs to stand her ground, and sometimes she needs to say “no.”
From what I saw, Taylor had these skills, and she helped make the Broad Street Market the amazing place it has become—a remarkable renaissance in just a few years.
I wish the board all the best in finding a great replacement. May the new manager be able to navigate this minefield of interests and build on what already has been accomplished.
The new manager, though, should harbor no romantic ideas or illusions about running the Broad Street Market. This is a tough job, and it requires a tough person to do it.
As a community, we would do well to welcome and support the new manager. The market may be the best representation of us as a city, the one place in town where everyone comes and sits, eats, laughs and shops, a place where people talk and connect and, upon leaving, seem happier for having been there.
Lawrance Binda is editor-in-chief of TheBurg.