The city doesn't have to look any further than the City Paper's "Best of Charleston" issue to see what residents think of the Charleston City Market. Once booming with local commerce, the 200-year-old staple is consistently voted the top tourist trap — an impressive feat in a tourist town.
The Market has been divided for years, with three sheds leased to a local management firm. As the City of Charleston looks to bring the Market under its own control next year, a chief concern is getting locals invested in the area. So far, residents aren't necessarily flocking to help. Of the 190 people who have completed a survey on how to improve the market, only 38 are residents. The majority are vendors and nearby business owners.
The city currently manages one of the four buildings that runs between Market Street. It will control the entire length in April, when a lease with The Christopher Co. expires. City planners had expected that vendors and residents would come out to voice their opinions on long-term changes like design and altering vendor space size. Instead, comments centered on parking problems, a lack of bathrooms, and trash issues.
"Really, the responses were geared toward things that need to be fixed today," says city civic designer Michael Maher. "If we'd asked these things one or two years ago, we'd have likely heard the same responses."
While vendors may want things fixed today, it'll likely be next year before the ball starts rolling. The city is looking to hire a new management company by November to oversee the day-to-day operations of the Market, and the new company's input will be included to solve the problems.
The city expects to gain nearly $1 million by taking over the remaining buildings and plans to invest in needs that have gone unaddressed by the current firm leasing the buildings.
Problems like a lack of air conditioning or cooling fans. It may be hard to resist Holy City Christmas ornaments or dozens of sweetgrass baskets, but it's a lot easier when it feels like 110 degrees.
While they want to see problems fixed, vendors are more concerned about being around to enjoy the new and improved Market.
"Could we know we'll be renting that spot as long as we're good citizens?" asks vendor Jack Margolies, worried that he'll be left with a lot of stuff and nowhere to sell it.
The city's response falls somewhere between a firm commitment and a total commitment.
"We want a smooth transition," says Colleen Carducci, the city's real estate manager. "We do not expect to tell anyone they're out."
There were also a few questions that survey respondents were solidly against. Most said there shouldn't be a dress code for visitors. Heck, if it's any hotter, they'll start coming naked (now that might bring the locals back).
They did seem to warm to nametags or Market shirts for vendors.
Likely attributed to the large number of vendors included in the survey, respondents supported earlier hours and an opportunity to sell anything they wanted. If they're talking about produce, great. If they're talking about cattle ... well, there might be other markets.
While there's no word on earlier hours, Carducci says the city may expand evening hours to include more than the one shed.
Potentially adding an anchor store to the Market received strong opposition, but Carducci notes that the question was asked in the survey without much explanation. If an anchor store is developed, it most likely would be adjacent to the Market, not in it.
While you'd be hard-pressed to find anything in the Market for two cents, the city is still taking input on its website at www.charlestoncity.info under the Civic Design Center section.