ST LOUIS — Since 1779, people have been buying fresh produce at what became known as Soulard Market.
Despite local reports that vendors are fighting with city officials about its future, the fourth-generation produce man who is president of the market association is confident that fresh produce will be available there for a long time.
Scott Schweiger’s family has been in the produce business since 1884, starting out as growers with a small farm off Neosho Street in the Gateway City. At that time, the Soulard Market had been the place in the area to buy fresh produce since 1779. Schweiger’s father, David “Buzzy” Schweiger, was a vendor at the historic market for more than six decades before Scott, the youngest of seven children, took over.
Now, as one of the longest-running vendor businesses on the market and as president of the market association, Schweiger is working to ensure the Soulard’s future. One small part of that effort is his sponsorship and operation of the market’s Web presence, (www.soulardmarket.com), which he said is just one example of how the St. Louis fixture can survive in the 21st century.
“The local media wants to make it be a battle between the vendors and the market (city government),” Schweiger said. “But that isn’t the case. I’m on the steering committee, and our first meeting in May showed me that we can move forward and keep it transparent so everyone knows what’s going on.”
There are 13 growers among the market’s vendors, a fact that is sometimes omitted by local media. He said some recent reports have portrayed the Soulard Market as a kind of factory outlet store for second-hand produce from the city’s Terminal Market, known locally as Produce Row.
On the contrary, Schweiger said the Soulard Market specializes in locally and regionally grown produce. Its customers are not merely weekend tourists. He said the vast majority are area residents who rely on the market for high-quality produce at lower prices than supermarkets charge.
Schweiger is working to help the market vendors and city officials find common ground. One thing that all can agree on is that switching the market to the jurisdiction of the Parks Department was a good idea.
Schweiger said it shifted administrative overhead to the city and that the market has been in the black for the past three years. He said it had been operating in the red for decades before that.
A plan for improving the market includes upgrades to public restrooms and other cosmetic improvements, but it no longer includes changes that some vendors said would turn the Soulard Market into “just another supermarket,” Schweiger said. Work on improvements could begin in 2012.