Public Market Again Posts Record Numbers, How?
Market director, vendor explain what they think is driving record growth.
Milwaukee Public Market.The Milwaukee Public Market is a runaway success story. Sales are up, visits are up, media exposure is through the roof. In addition to being seen by thousands of drivers daily, its large sign is regularly used in movies, such as Bridesmaids, and on television, including any nationally televised Milwaukee Bucks game, to establish to viewers that you’re looking at Milwaukee.
It’s becoming the symbol of the city.
Sales have almost doubled since 2012, totaling $19,914,069 in 2019. Last year, the market recorded over two million visits, ending the year with a count of 2,026,840. Sales were up 10 percent over 2018 and visits were up 13 percent.
“What’s been remarkable is how many people we are attracting from outside the region while also maintaining a local customer base from throughout the Milwaukee metro area,” said market Executive Director Paul Schwartz in a press release announcing the news. “Public markets are viewed nationally as a hotbed of social, cultural and culinary placemaking, and I’d like to think we’re delivering that here in Milwaukee.”
But what’s actually fueling that growth? “I’d be hard pressed to attribute it to any one thing,” said Schwartz in an interview. But he has plenty of ideas.
The market, owned by the Historic Third Ward business improvement district (BID), opened in 2005 and wasn’t an immediate success, with many vendors turning over in the early years. But its tenant mix is now stable and the market is seeking ways to fit even more in.
In fact, finding a way to incorporate even more vendors into the mix is one of the things Schwartz credits. “We’re not afraid to dream and think outside the box,” said Schwartz. “Case in point, when Draft & Vessel approached me about a year ago about being in the market, I told him we don’t have space inside, but I admired what they had done in Shorewood. So we met and brainstormed possibilities. I’ve been wanting to activate the outside spaces around the market more and more. The end result was the Draft Patio.” The patio is a beer garden set up with a classic truck along E. St. Paul Ave.
Schwartz told Urban Milwaukee the tenant mix is better than its ever been and the vendors’ dedication to their products is noticed by customers.
The Hop, Milwaukee’s streetcar system that is exceeding ridership expectations, is also a factor in the market’s growth.
“The streetcar stop outside the market is one of the busiest along the route. No doubt about that,” said Schwartz. “From what we’re learning from folks involved with the streetcar, the market stop is one of the most popular ‘drop off’ destinations along the route. It’s been especially helpful to people staying in hotels along the route.”
Foltz Family Market co-owner Casey Foltz credits the streetcar as a strong driver of the growth. “As a vendor in the public market, I can say that we definitely saw an uptick last year directly related to The Hop,” wrote Foltz on Facebook this week. His business has grown by 24 percent, which he calculated generated an additional $48,356 in sales and employment tax revenue in 2019.
The Milwaukee Public Market has also benefitted from the growth of the neighborhood. New apartment buildings have opened in the neighborhood in recent years as well as a new hotel and a host of new retailers. An influx of chains, including everything from Shake Shack to Verizon, hasn’t dampened the draw of the independent vendors in the market.
“The Third Ward neighborhood has seen some exciting developments in recent years. And more developments will become realized in the next couple years which will only help make the Market stronger,” said Schwartz. He also said the market benefits from strong partnerships with the City and VISIT Milwaukee.
Schwartz also praised his staff. “Our operating principles are Common Sense, Sense of Humor, Organized Chaos,” said the executive director, crediting BID board member Ron San Felippo for their origination. “We have a top-notch team from private events, to marketing, to facility and maintenance. And many of them have been here for over eight years, so they have an understanding of what works and what doesn’t.”
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7 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Public Market Again Posts Record Numbers, How?”
I appreciate it’s existence, but I really hope it doesn’t become “the symbol of the city”. It’s a lazy Seattle knock-off and should be in the background of many uniquely Milwaukee things.
Milwaukee Public Market Hop Stop:
The Public Market numbers show another way streetcars differ from buses.
The Market has always had bus service, but those buses never brought the Market many customers. Even buses on similar downtown-only routes (the “trolleys”) didn’t make a dent in the Market’s sales. And, if I remember correctly, there was at least one year when the downtown “trolley” was free, so it’s more than the free fare that attracts people to the streetcar.
This also shows how wrong streetcar critics were when they laughed at the idea that tourists and other downtown hotel guests would use the streetcar.
The takeaway is that people prefer riding streetcars (and other rail) to buses.
My last visit to the Public Market reminded me of Yogi Berra’s famous line about a famous restaurant, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
Please explain what is “lazy” about the market? It has evolved, with vision and effort, to be the vibrant north anchor of the Historic Third Ward. Not an aspirant effort to copy Seattle.
I work on Wisconsin Avenue, between the north and south branches of the Hop. I catch the 403 southbound and take it one stop to the Public Market. In fifteen minutes I buy and eat something good and healthy at Aladdin’s Middle Eastern, taking the 419 northbound back to work. It works well everyday. But I would not make the trip without the Hop.
I don’t think it’s safe to conclude that the buses don’t bring the Public Market many customers, and that the numbers suggest drawing any conclusions for comparing the streetcar to the bus system. Research from Europe exists suggesting general preference for trains over buses, but MCTS existed prior to the public market, so it’s hard to compare them in the same way.
For Milwaukee specifically, there are pieces of infrastructure built for the streetcar that don’t exist (but could/should) for the bus. Having dedicated lanes, signal priority, frequent service, no fares, and level and all-door boarding makes the streetcar much faster both on dwell time and travel time. I think the streetcar is great, and making those investments for transit is awesome. I’d love to expand the Hop and its level of service as far as possible.
My point is not that MCTS/Hop is better or worse, but comparing them is difficult with the vast differences in goals, service area and infrastructure.