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BY YANNIC RACK
It has taken 15 years to sprout back, but the beloved greenmarket that supplied farm-fresh produce and neighborhood vibes at the World Trade Center in the ’80s and ’90s could soon return to a permanent spot at the redeveloped site, organizers say.
The more than a dozen farmers and vendors could once again pitch their tents at the farmer’s market that served Downtown from 1983 until the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, starting as soon as August, according to Grow NYC, the group that runs greenmarkets throughout the city.
“It was such a resource and fixture prior to 9/11, so we’ve always been looking forward to the day when we can finally come back,” said Michael Hurwitz, the director of the group’s greenmarket program. “We love this community and want to re-establish the market that served them for years.”
The area around the Oculus WTC Transportation Hub is still teeming with construction activity — but representatives for Westfield, the company that will operate the retail and open spaces around the site, confirmed this week that the market’s return was imminent.
“We’ve been in discussion, and we feel very optimistic about bringing back the fresh farmer’s market to the site,” Senior Vice President of Development Michael McNaughton said at a Community Board 1 Planning Committee meeting on Apr. 11.
The announcement prompted a round of applause from the board members, who have been supportive of the market’s past attempts at re-establishing a foothold in the neighborhood.
“This is something this community has been waiting for a very long time,” said CB1 chairwoman Catherine McVay Hughes, who lives near the site in the Financial District and used to frequent the outdoor market. “Nothing replaces buying fresh corn on the cob, freshly picked local strawberries and peaches,” she said. “The local residents really bonded with the farmers, they are an important part of our ecosystem.“
After 9/11, the twice-weekly market returned for stints of up to a year at locations ranging from the plaza in front of the temporary PATH station to Zuccotti Park, but its last incarnation, which disappeared last July, hosted only one farmer and one baker — whereas the original market at the World Trade Center boasted up to 16 producers at a time.
“None of the other spaces really allowed us to grow, to have any type of vibrant market,” said Hurwitz. “It lacked the foot traffic, it wasn’t the market that it once was. But we always wanted to maintain a presence.”
The new market would try to bring back some of the vendors that used to sell their goods Downtown, and Hurwitz said it would likely be similar in size to the original market as well. Although it would probably start out with only one day a week, he said the twice-weekly format could be revived depending on demand.
“We would probably start with one day, and if with the traffic and everything else it would make sense to do two, we would,” he said. “We think it’s a great location for commuter traffic, the folks who work down there, and of course for the people who live here and have lived here without a market for 15 years.”
For the farmers who served the neighborhood before it was devastated by 9/11, the prospect of setting up their stands in Lower Manhattan once more is enticing.
“I was always very fond of the market and the people down there,” said Bernadette Kowalski, who runs the River Garden flower farm together with her husband.
Kowalski said she was at the World Trade Center market for about a decade and now sells flowers out of Union Square. Hers was also one of the stands that returned Downtown in the years after 2001, although with mixed results.
“Getting back there not long afterwards didn’t quite work out with the logistics,” she said. “But I would be really happy to go back now. I felt very much at home there.”
“We had a lot of loyal customers that came back every week. It was a great neighborhood to be in,” agreed Ron Samascott, who owns and runs the Samascott Orchards farm near Albany together with his brother, and was a fixture at the original WTC Geenmarket for its entire 17-year run.
Samascott, who primarily sells apples but also offers produce ragning from strawberries and plums to asparagus and squash, said the twice-weekly stand at the original location made up about half of his business back then.
“That was the first greenmarket we ever did,” he said, adding that the farm now travels around every week to markets from Union Square to Inwood.
“We do all kinds of fruits and vegetables all summer, and then we have apples in the winter. It was really a part of my life, every week for 17 years.”
Before the September 11 attacks, the vendors were located along Church St. near the old 4 World Trade Center, and the market was open on the morning of the attacks.
“A number of our farmers were there and actually lost their tents and tables,” said Hurwitz. “Our manager helped evacuate people from the buildings.”
Westfield said it couldn’t say yet exactly when or where the new market would return. But the only outdoor options are Cortlandt Way, the passage between Church and Greenwich Sts. between 3 WTC and 4 WTC — which Hughes points out will likely be too narrow — and the plaza around the Oculus, which appears to be a more likely choice.
Although the transport hub already opened its doors for straphangers this March, the station’s retail section — which will include more than 120 stores, spread throughout the sprawling space, as well as its underground corridors — is scheduled to open in Aug. 16, according to Westfield.
Hurwitz said the two parties were having another meeting on the topic in the coming weeks, and that the market organizers would aim to return as soon as possible after the remainder of the Oculus opens in late summer.
“We will be back there as soon as is operationally feasible,” he said.
For Samascott, returning to a permanent spot at the World Trade Center after 15 years away would certainly be reason to celebrate.
“We’re looking forward to it,” he said. “We definitely miss that market.”