Seventy-one years ago, Carrie Lewis Wales and Phyllis Lewis Gloden, 85 and 81, respectively, were at the Lansing City Market on its opening day. They returned to the market on Saturday for what was essentially its closing day.
Back in 1938, Wales remembered, the market opened with a dance, and “it was so crowded you could hardly move,” she said.
Wales, her sister and their brother lived five blocks away from the market. They would walk to the market, and their brother found work there. Sometimes, he would bring home to the family bouquets of unsold flowers.
At around 1 p.m. Saturday, there were about 50 at the Lansing City Market for a celebration of sorts because it was the last weekend day that the old market would be open for business. A shiny new market sits nearby on the banks of the Grand River waiting for new vendors to set up shop. Saturday was also a goodbye to the market. President Franklin Roosevelt’s post-Depression era Works Progress Administration — a kind of 1930s stimulus package — built the market.
The building is set to be demolished after Christmas, and earth moving and demolition machines stood within feet of the door making preparations for Pat Gillespie’s Market Place mixed-use project.
In demolishing the old market, memories and artifacts will be lost. Gone will be the hundreds of smudgy primary-color handprints on the walls each bearing a child’s name. Gone, too, will be Veric Veresh’s 1995 murals one depicting farmers milking cows and another showing an early downtown streetscape.
The produce vendors at the old market sold were their calling cards. Market shoppers called Barney Richter Yeager “the tomato lady.”
“I raised my kids on this market,” the 75-year-old said. She was a vendor at the old, old market, which used to sit at the intersection of Shiawassee Street and Grand Avenue.
“It was so cold in there we had to go in the restaurant across the street to get warm,” she laughed. In 1938, she moved with the market to its present location, employing her children.
The time came when her son wanted a stall of his own. He bought tomatoes from her and sold them at a slightly higher price. Some of her customers bought produce from him to support his infant business, she remembered, laughing.
Yeager’s daughter, Debbie Baldwin, put herself through college working at the market.
Yeager retired in 2002, but customers still talk about the scale “the tomato lady” used.
Robert and Dena Awenshine, of Lansing, recalled weighing their newborn son, Arron, on the scale, representing the third generation to be so welcomed.
The market has been a place for all ages, but particularly for children.
Pat Traill, of Lansing, recalled riding the bus from Holt as a child with her mom in the 1950s, which in her youthful perception was a long trip.
“I’ve been coming here for 40 years,” Cinda Elstzroth said. “The colors and textures are so stimulating for a child.”
Cathy Milett from time to time came to the market with a family friend when she was 10. The farmer would pick her up before dawn in Fowlerville and she rode in the truck with onions, potatoes and lettuce. It was a long day and she loved it.
Milett is now retired and living north of the market in the Riverfront Apartments.
Elstzroth offered another special feature of the market. That is “the consistency of finding the same people working here year after year—it’s like an extension of my neighborhood.”
Not all of the merchants in the old market will move to the new. Nevertheless, many of the old timers will be there when the new $1.6 million market opens. The public can look around Jan. 1 and 2. Vendors will start sales on Jan. 5. Some vendors will have larger spaces and offer new services.
The Grain Market, owned by Travis and Scarlett Sybrowsky, has only been at the market six months and has already expanded once. Items on sale range from specialized measuring beakers and newfangled cutting boards to digital pressure cookers and high tech thermometers. In the new market, their food equipment store
will grow to 325 square feet, allowing them to give free food
demonstrations and to offer lunch-hour and evening cooking classes.
Austin’s Aggie Mae’s Bakery and Sweet Shoppe, also only six months at
the market, will grow to 432 square feet and include a full kitchen.
She’ll be able to produce and bake her artisan breads on site where
customers will be able to watch. She will also be creating chocolate
cakes and other sweets that resemble art.
“I like the artistry of it. After all, we eat with our eyes first,” she said.
has continued to visit the market regularly, and up until recently
would weigh herself on what seemed like an 8-foot-high scale. The scale
is no longer there. It is now over at the new market.