- Photo by Aaron Warnick
In the Pittsburgh Public Market, there’s a stall called Steve’s Deli, but call the man behind the counter “Steve” and he probably won’t respond.
That’s because the couple who owns the small operation are named Ed and Maggie. Neither is a trained chef, and “Steve” is a family friend who bought Ed his first oven when he was a kid. The couple — trained in math and industrial design — wanted to try their dream of running a food business, and the public market offered a laboratory for their experiment.
“This was a good place for us to start out, figure out what we’re doing and work out some of the problems,” said Ed Hyp, from behind the walnut countertops that he and his father custom-built.
But when the market, which has been in its current location since 2013, announced last month that it would be relocating after its lease ends on April 29, Hyp was shocked.
“I mean, it’s been a nice time here,” Hyp says. “We really put a lot into building our space. Some of this was here from the previous guy, but we painted everything.”
The lease on the market’s current building — its second location in five years — is not being renewed by the building owner, Horton Corporation of PA. The market council and staff say they don’t know why.
“We were taken aback” by the news, says market-council member Kit Mueller. “We went through this entire process renewing at a longer term. Now we’re at a loss.”
Nora Coffey, the building’s owner and Horton president, says the building will not be sold, but rather leased to an undetermined future tenant. She would not reveal details about the public market’s lease ending. However, she says, “I think [the market council] should be more forthcoming with you, since they know exactly what the reason is. An attempt to characterize it as something they have no idea about is absurd.” She declined to elaborate further.
Now, the council is tasked with finding a new location — whether that means the Strip or not.
“The ideal space is awfully hard to come by,” says market general manager Rich Westerfield. “Rent has to be low enough for us to be able to pass on [a low rent to tenants] so that we can continue to be an incubator. Once you cross a certain threshold, it doesn’t make sense to be in the market.”
Westerfield wouldn’t give a specific figure, but he says the goal is not to go above $10 per square foot. Market staff and vendors visited a potential location last week, and another idea being kicked around is a return to the market’s original location — the Produce Terminal building.
But Westerfield says the Public Market would rather not have a long hiatus in operations.
“You don’t want to be waiting for 12 to 18 months to commit to the Terminal building or any building that’s going to take a year-and-a-half to two years to be ready,” says Westerfield.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh is still negotiating a proposal with the terminal’s developer, McCaffrey Interests. Possible new locations are not being revealed.
“A number of our vendors would love to be in Strip,” Westerfield says. “Staying here realistically, given the fact that we’re being essentially closed down due to increasing real-estate prices makes finding a place in the Strip challenging.”
Don Orkoskey, president of Neighbors in the Strip, which advises on development in the area, says Westerfield’s assessment of increasing real estate is accurate, but still says: “For me, personally, I wish the market could stay in the Strip.”
Neighbors in the Strip secured a nearly $800,000 grant for the market’s communal kitchen; he says the kitchen in some form will go where the market goes.
Currently some vendors — including Hyp — need more details before they decide to move with the market.
Issues of foot traffic — a concern for many of the market vendors — combined with the impending move, influenced longtime vendor Clarion River Organics’ decision to leave. Clarion River had been with the market since its inception.
“We have been struggling to make that market work all along, so it just gave me the final reason to leave,” Zeb Bartels, of Clarion River Organics, wrote in an email to CP.
For another longtime vendor, Family Farm Creameries, the market is more than a retail space. The company rents extra space for production and storage.
“So as long as we’ve got somewhere to churn and have cold storage, we’ll be cruising,” Family Farm Creameries manager Megan Whitmer says of a potential new space.
Westerfield says he wants people to know one thing for sure: “We’re going to be open [until April]. We’re not dead.”