Milwaukee public market sets records in 2015!

The St. Paul Fish Company area at the Milwaukee Public Market was a busy place Tuesday afternoon. The Market set records for sales and visits in 2015.

Riding a wave of interest in urban living and craft foods, the now-thriving Milwaukee Public Market posted another good year in 2015, breaking records for both sales and visits.

Sales by the market’s vendors totaled $14.4 million, up nearly 20% from the $12.0 million recorded in 2014, the market said.

Customer visits rose 11.6% — to 1.4 million last year from 1.2 million in 2014.

The latest results benefited from comparison to 2014, when construction on the nearby I-794 freeway forced the Public Market to close half of its parking lot, and changes in vendors left two spots vacant for two or three months. Sales in 2014 increased by only 3% — far less than the gains of the previous six years.

Still, parking was limited during much of 2015 too, and last year’s numbers show a continuation of the double-digit percentage growth the market generally has enjoyed annually since 2008.

Paul Schwartz, operation and communication manager, welcomed the results.

“They’re a great indication of how hard our vendors work to make sure that every customer who walks in here has the best product they possibly can,” he said. “And we’ve worked really hard to generate an audience and an awareness of the market.”

Opened in October 2005 in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward, the market struggled at first until refashioning itself under new management, and placing greater emphasis on prepared foods.

Since then, it has been a key attraction in the booming Third Ward, and at the same time benefited from the growth and development of the near-downtown district.

The often-bustling market, with its open architecture and second-level loft dining area, currently has 18 vendors and no vacancies.

“We wish we had more capacity some days,” Schwartz said.

Some food-oriented urban markets such as Seattle’s Pike Place and Washington, D.C.’s Eastern Market have been around for over a century. But many more such places have popped up in cities across the country in recent years, said Lauren Hallow, concept analyst with Technomic Inc., a food industry consulting and research firm in Chicago.

“It seems every week I read something about a new food hall opening up,” Hallow said.

Among the reasons, she said, are the rising interest in local foods — a staple of places such as the Public Market — and the resurgence in urban living.

“We’re seeing food halls open up in urban areas like downtown Milwaukee because they’re catering to professionals, travelers,” Hallow said. “…They’re catering to on-the-go people who aren’t looking for traditional fast food. They’re seeking something a little more upscale.”

Tim Collins, owner of St. Paul Fish Co., an original tenant at the market, has seen the changes.

“It certainly evolved a lot,” he said. “When we opened down here it was a little early, I think, for the Third Ward.”

The original notion of “sort of a European market model — you do daily shopping for fresh stuff” wasn’t what customers wanted, Collins said. But as the market evolved, “it’s gotten more and more popular every year,” he said.

The market isn’t strictly prepared food. Retailers such as St. Paul Fish Co., West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe and Nehring’s Family Market sell a good deal of food meant to be taken home, Collins said.

And some vendors don’t sell food at all, including one of the most recent, apparel merchant Brew City, which the market recruited in response to requests from tourists for clothing to mark their Milwaukee visit, Schwartz said.

“We’ve kind of tried to maintain that balance,” he said.

The market is owned by a business improvement district that includes the Third Ward.

Story by Rick Romell Milwaukee Sentinel Journal.

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