Markets have been around for centuries, dating back to the days of early Greece when markets existed in the city squares where individuals brought out their wares to sell. This would have been similar to what we know of today as a Farmers Market. The general idea of the farmers market style commerce continued up until the 1800’s when cities began building covered market spaces and buildings. Back then local governments established market laws and constructed special buildings and spaces that demonstrated its commitment to protect citizens from spoiled food, high prices, food shortages, and merchandise that did not meet standard weight or measure. Sales of perishable goods were carried on openly, at specified times, so that anyone passing by may judge the quality of goods and witness transactions.
Open-air sheds in public markets and food exposed to the elements represented positive qualities in a market–where the product could be witnessed easily and where the food itself was literally open for public inspection. Food marketing was a public act–carefully orchestrated by local officials and the city’s food purveyors who were eager to achieve their mutual goal of provisioning the city. The concentration of food retailers under one roof had many advantages. Vendors could keep an eye on their competition; the municipal clerk could oversee the market; and customers could choose among several different merchants. The market house also created the conditions for synergism, the merchandising phenomenon that occurs when vendors benefit from selling in proximity to one another. The concept paved the way for the next generations of markets.
These public spaces and buildings were then surpassed by private enterprise in the early 1900’s with what became known as Supermarkets like A&P and Piggly Wiggly. Those early companies paved the way toward the next generation of Supermarkets like Publix, Winn Dixie and are again evolving into new concepts like Trader Joes and Whole Foods. In addition to these upscale market types, we see a retreat back to local and the concept of open air public markets like the rehabbed Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia or the brand new North Market in Columbus Ohio. Farmers Markets have also found a resurgence in the cities as of recent. Public markets, whether open air or markets in buildings, offer more than just places to buy and sell fresh food, these buildings and spaces create a dynamic, open environment that encourages the transmission, exchange, and introduction, of new tastes and ingredients.