By Annie Lok
The fabled fishmongers may be long gone, but food lovers lined up for raw oysters and razor clam salad in front of the old Fulton Fish Market.
Hundreds of people crowded around stalls under the F.D.R. on South St. to slurp chorizo stew and chew sauerkraut bread all made with locally produced ingredients at the New Amsterdam Market last Sunday.
Across the F.D.R., a new, small permanent farmers’ market opened last week and the vendors were attracting some customers Sunday. That market is a year-round daily operation owned and run by the Seaport mall’s operator, General Growth Properties. The company included the Fulton Stalls Market, as it is called, into its Seaport development plan as a service to nearby residents.
“Essentially we want a market that fits the needs of the community,” said Janell Vaughan, General Growth’s general manager at the Seaport. “If I’m a resident of the area, I could shop the market and bring home dinner.”
The market on Sunday had three stalls selling apples, eggs, milk, ice cream, cookies and pies. Vaughan says a total of eight stalls should be open by early August, and she is hoping to round out the offerings with bread, cheese and more produce.
Meanwhile, in the stalls at New Amsterdam Market on Sunday, regional farmers, purveyors, distributors and restaurant chefs brought vegetables, meat, bread, cheese, and prepared dishes to New Yorkers who seemed eager for them.
“There’s a growing concern about how food is produced and a growing desire to support regional agriculture,” said Robert LaValva, the director of New Amsterdam Market, a nonprofit organization. “And we would like New York to become the center for that kind of thinking.”
Some shoppers did say the desire to buy from independent, local food businesses brought them to the market.
“I like to support the producers,” said Louise Mabel, 48, who found out about the South Street market through a small cheese shop. “Because if you don’t, what you end up with is a giant shopping mall.”
Mabel shops regularly in the city’s greenmarkets. But she says the farmers’ markets are limited to seasonal produce, and don’t sell much bread, cheese or prepared food.
This is part of the argument LaValva makes for creating a permanent New Amsterdam Market.
“We have a wonderful greenmarket system,” he said. “But the greenmarket system is by definition for farmers only. And there are lots of farmers who can’t come to greenmarket, or it’s not part of their business model.” He sees purveyors, or middlemen, selling the fruits of these farms at a city market. “Sort of like in the old fashioned times the butcher, the grocer, the cheesemonger, the fishmonger.”
The market is currently a one-day event that happens once every few months on a parking lot. The latest installment came as Downtown residents are clamoring for a fresh food market in the neighborhood, and as the future of the South Street Seaport where organizers want the market to be recently re-emerged in the spotlight.
LaValva wants to revive the former market district at the South Street Seaport with the New Amsterdam Market. And he and the market’s supporters think it belongs in one of the buildings left empty by the Fulton Fish Market. He says the site’s history as a market resonates with New Yorkers, many of whom have told him they miss the fish market.
Amanda de Beaufort, 31, a Brooklynite who was waiting for a shaved-ice treat at the market, shares that nostalgia. “When the fish market closed, it was kind of a tragedy,” she said. “I used to love coming to the seaport.” An Alaska native who is used to fresh fish, she used to buy fish at the downtown market for special occasions.
For some, the loss cut deeper than dinner.
“It’s a piece of tradition that goes away,” said Arnie Schlissel, 47, who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years. “I feel like a piece of my history was taken away.”
Schlissel signed a petition on display at the New Amsterdam Market asking for a permanent space in either the New Market Building or the Tin Building, which both used to house the Fulton Fish Market.
General Growth has other ideas for the former fish market buildings, however. Two weeks ago, the company announced its plan for restructuring the area, which includes Pier 17 and the former fish market buildings. In this proposal, the New Market Building would be torn down and replaced with a hotel tower and the Tin Building would be relocated to the water’s edge. The company plans to fulfill the community’s need for a good food source with the Fulton Stalls Market.
The stalls did not receive quite the same attention and fanfare as the New Amsterdam Market, but the stalls’ vendors said they were doing a brisk business and local residents were excited at the prospect of a farmers’ market near home.
Denise and Jonathan Rabinowitz walked past the farm stalls while hurrying home to Liberty St. to put away fresh veal and chicken they’d bought at the larger New Amsterdam Market. They didn’t buy anything from the stalls, but looked forward to having a farmers’ market at the Seaport.
“We want both places,” said Denise Rabinowitz, who said food choices were limited in her area. “The more choice, the better.”