City Market

Writer's note: This story originally ran on March 12th, 2018, so some information may not be current.  

I grew up in a small town in the middle of Michigan, and on Saturday mornings during the summer my mom would take my brothers and me to the local farmer's market to buy food.⠀

Set up in the parking lot of a True Value hardware store, I remember most vendors selling produce out of the bed of their trucks or underneath dirty and torn tarp covered tents. While most were selling the same kinds of things, every once and a while we would come across someone doing something different and unexpected - honey taken directly from the hive, handmade soap, or locally raised hamburgers being cooked on a grill.⠀

Walking into Bay City's City Market, you can see that they're out to do things differently. There is, of course, the fresh produce one would expect at a typical farmer's market, but every vendor-lined walkway reveals something unexpected; a butcher shop, bakeries, a pizza place, coffee shop, wine bar, handmade crafts, a florist, and more.⠀

"We knew from the beginning that we wanted to be different - I don't think there's any other market out there like this. To my knowledge, we're the first market going this route and following this model," says co-founder Matthew Meehan.⠀

The different route he's referring to isn't only about the things you can buy here. City Market, a building filled with 30 different for-profit businesses, is itself a non-profit organization.⠀

"City Market's mission is to connect our community to local food. We want to help the community and that takes non-profits and volunteers working together, and those relationships would be difficult to create if we ourselves weren't a non-profit."⠀

Ruthy Shemanski, who manages City Market, adds, "We actually started as an LLC. But after I went through Market Management Certification and learned about how farm markets are able to give back to the community in a powerful way, it was important for us to be a non-profit. We needed to be able to start programs and have all these different opportunities to be able to give back, and then continue to give back more as we grow."⠀

"We hatched this crazy idea one at a farmer's market down in Florida with some friends that also live in Bay City, too, and we all wondered, 'Why don't we have this at home?' Bay City is an awesome place, we deserve something like this,'" Matthew says.
I ask him how he went from the idea that Bay City should have something like "this" to actually having "this". He laughs.

"It happened really fast!! I think that was October 4th. 2016 where we were all jokingly saying with our friends that we should have one, and probably two days later we created the Facebook page, and then we put things into high gear. So from October to June 2017 we completely gutted the old JcPenny building and built it out for up to 45 vendors. We did all the marketing and opened to a huge reception - nine thousand people came through here on our first day."

"We had 35,000 people come through the market in four days, and we're very proud of that because Bay City's population is right around that number. We had people from Midland, Saginaw, Detroit, out-of-state. It was really cool to see how excited the community was," Ruthy says.

"One of the biggest things we set out to do from day one was to create a place where the entire community could come and just have a good time and have fun. We wanted it to be more of a community center than for it to be just a farmer's market. It IS a farmer's market, but it's SO much more. It's a public market," Matthew says.

Ruthy adds, "We really put a lot of time and effort and energy into thinking about the different kinds of people who are going to come to the market. It's such a beautiful place to come in and shop. But there's a misconception that because it's beautiful it's not for everyone and that it's high-priced because it looks high end.

We wanted it to look beautiful, of course! We wanted to create this gorgeous thing that would reflect the beauty of Bay City. But that doesn't mean that the vendors in here are overpriced for the community." 

Matthew says, "I think we are a community rich with people who want to make it a better place and who want to continue building Bay City into something truly great. There a lot of people who are eager and willing to pitch in and help out, and I think a vehicle like City Market helps propel the community forward.⠀

And it's awesome to see the community this excited for all the change that is coming about. And it's not just City Market, you walk down any street in downtown, and there's something going on - it's awesome to see. Bay City has seen its ups and downs, and 30 or 40 years ago, Bay City was the place to be in this area of Michigan. But it's been sleeping, and now we're seeing it wake up and get back to work again."⠀

I ask Ruthy and Matthew how they want to see City Market grow over the next few years.⠀

Ruthy says, "We're still a baby. We've been open 9 months. When I look at City Market, and I see the business owners who have taken a risk with being with us at the start of all this, I want to see their businesses grow beyond their wildest dreams. Each of the business owners, the farmers, all the people who are working to bring us food and goods and an experience - I want to see people embrace that, wholeheartedly."⠀

Matthew adds, "City Market, in terms of growth for the community, I really want to create a livable, walkable downtown environment and see a city come back to life. And in order for that to happen, we really need something like this. A great example of this is if you look Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Public Market. In an area that had been depressed for a while, they build the Milwaukee Public Market and if you look around the area now, it is AWESOME. The whole area is completely revived. It gave a reason for people to want to live back downtown. To want to come back. ⠀

All of the great things that are happening are getting people to look back at their hometown who moved away or making people look at Bay City for the first time.⠀

I want City Market to give us a sense of place, that both wealthy and impoverished people are able to come in here and feel like they belong."