All the Fruit a Market Bears

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Notre Dame St., Lachine’s beleagured main street

The Lachine Market comes as a surprise: a small, pleasant outpost near the end of the Lachine Canal. For years, like the neighbourhood around it, the market suffered from neglect. Now, with a new format meant to better serve its community, it hopes to become a central part of life in the area and reinvigorate its sleepy surroundings.

Lachine’s market history dates back to the 1840s, but it was in 1909 that a permanent public market was built on the town’s main drag, Notre Dame St. By the end of the century, however, the market had faded out of existence, mirroring the commercial decline of Lachine’s old downtown.

Then came the market’s second act: In 2004, the Corporation de gestion des marchés publics de Montréal, which also manages the Jean Talon, Atwater and Maisonneuve markets, proceeded to transform it into a partially enclosed, year-round market open seven days a week. Strung along two blocks of Notre Dame St., between 17th and 19th Aves., the new market consists of a covered flower market and an indoor market hall, the two joined by a small plaza.

Originally, the market hall contained a number of boutiques and merchants, but they were too upscale for the neighbourhood; despite an initial burst of popularity, the market’s business soon declined. By the end of 2006, many of the businesses were ready to leave.

“We had to change the mix of tenants,” said Ghislain Dufour, a member of Lachine’s economic development committee. “You have to look at the basics of any public market, and that’s fruits and vegetables. So that’s why we decided that the best tenant to replace the others would be a permanent fruit and vegetable market.”

Not only is fresh produce a daily necessity, it is especially needed in Lachine, a borough with districts that suffer from high rates of poverty and poor access to affordable food.

Today, most of the market hall is dedicated to fruits and vegetables; the only remaining businesses from the old tenant mix are a gourmet fromagerie and a café.

“We would have gone bankrupt if not for the new concept,” said Andrée Garcia, the café’s owner. “Now we have more people who come from the surrounding neighbourhood. Before it was too expensive, so everyone went to Maxi and IGA, but now they can afford it.”

Lucie Bilodeau, the owner of L’Ile, a cheese shop and deli, agrees. “I’ve seen a lot of customers I haven’t seen in a long time,” she remarked, explaining the market is much busier than it was before the change.

Dufour has also noticed the same trend. “Lachine being a rather small place, I talk to people. When something works in Lachine, you know it, and when something doesn’t work, you also know. So far, the reaction has been very positive.”

Ghislaine Dauphinais runs the new fruit and vegetable business. Selling produce runs in her family—they have been merchants at the Jean Talon Market for 50 years—and she knows that, for a market to succeed, it has to serve as wide a range of people as possible.

“We appeal to everyone. Because the prices are lower, there’s more choice, the quality is better, there’s more traffic (than before),” she said.

This summer, the fruit and vegetable market will expand outdoors, into the plaza. Dufour hopes this will create a lively atmosphere at the market that will make it even more of a neighbourhood meeting place.

Steve Davies, the vice-president of the Project for Public Spaces, a New York-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the study and creation of public spaces, says this kind of social interaction is what makes public markets such a boon for urban neighbourhoods, especially economically marginal ones like Lachine.

“Going to the market is a very social experience. In a poor neighbourhood, they become gathering spaces that are perhaps more important than they would be in other kinds of neighbourhoods,” he said.

Public markets also have the ability to incubate small businesses and draw new ones to the neighbourhood. This is particularly evident around the Jean Talon Market, whose success has transformed the adjacent area into a culinary mecca of ethnic supermarkets and specialty food stores.

So far, however, the Lachine Market’s impact on local businesses has been limited. On Notre Dame St., Lachine’s quaint but moribund main street, vacant storefronts almost outnumber the occupied ones.

“The traffic stops at the market. People don’t go farther,” complained Pen Paul Pichitr, the owner of Patisserie Savoureuse, at the corner of Notre Dame and 14th. Nearby, in Barakah, a halal butcher and grocery store, Zeinab Hussein said the market hasn’t had any effect on her business, which comes mainly from Lachine’s growing Muslim community.

On a recent sunny Saturday, Notre Dame St. was eerily quiet but for a few passersby. At the market, meanwhile, dozens of people browsed for plants and flowers and still more shopped for food inside the market hall. Next to the market, on 18th Ave., children played soccer in the street as the waters of the St. Lawrence sparkled in the distance.

Although Dufour points out the market has helped attract new residential development – hundreds of new condo units have been built nearby – he admits spreading the market’s roots will be difficult but necessary.

“A market needs to start with its community,” he said. “Any market, even Atwater or Jean Talon, started as local markets and they grew. You have to put one foot before the other.”

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Thursday May 17 2007at 11:05 pm , filed under Food, Interior Space, Public Space, Society and Culture and tagged . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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