Downtown News and Blog

Downtown Farmers Market turns 25

May 11, 2016 Written by Kim Angeli

Published in Downtown News and Blog

July of 1992, the Downtown Alliance held the first farmers market in Pioneer Park (350 S. 300 West.) with four vendors selling produce to a meager crowd of Market staff, police officers and residents eager to welcome a market to Salt Lake City. This June, the Downtown Farmers Market celebrates its 25th season boasting more than 300 vendors and 10,000 weekly visitors. A summer tradition and nationally-regarded event, the Downtown Farmers Market is an integral part of this developing food district. The west side of Downtown SLC is a delight to the palates of those in search of fresh and local.

When the Downtown Alliance of Salt Lake City was formed, one of the first projects tasked to the new organization was to introduce programming in Pioneer Park that would encourage positive activity in this area notorious for criminal events and drug use. At this time, the downtown area of Salt Lake City seemed to end at West Temple. A viaduct on the southwest end of the park and a historic train engine on the northeast corner created visual barriers that encouraged nefarious activities. The 10-acre greenspace and largest downtown park was wrought with infamy.
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Slowly the magical elixir of urban revitalization began to take hold as residents, hotels, restaurants and retail began to emerge in the neighborhood. Through this period, the Market continued to steadily grow and expand its offerings to include artisan foods, agricultural-based crafts and live performances. In 1999, the engine was relocated to the Utah State Railroad Museum in Ogden. The viaducts, including the one abutting the park, were shortened for several downtown blocks to make way for construction of the Gateway(18 N Rio Grande St., 801-456-0000, www.shopthegateway.com). This momentum stimulated development and residential developers became early adopters building the Palladio Apartments (360 S. 200 West, 801-320-4400, www.palladioapartments.com) and converting Uffens Marketplace (336 W. 300 South.) to downtown loft condominiums in 2003. Hotel developments followed with Marriott Residence Inn (285 W. 300 South, 801-355-3300, www.marriott.com) and later Homewood Suites (423 W. 300 South, 801-363-6700, www.homewood.hilton.com) operating adjacent to Pioneer Park. The Gateway opened in 2001 bringing entertainment, shopping and the 2002 Winter Olympics to the neighborhood. One of Salt Lake’s finest Italian restaurants, Cucina Toscana (282 S 300 W, toscanaslc.com), has brought adventurous diners to the neighborhood for over the past ten years.

In 2008, phase one of the Pioneer Park renovations were completed. These renovations were designed to build on the success of the Downtown Farmers Market. A promenade of decomposed granite and concrete created a circular to facilitate Market traffic on Saturdays and to be used for jogging and rollerblading during the week. The entry corners of the park were widened and seating was added. Electricity was increased to accommodate the demands of food vendors. Opening day of the Downtown Farmers Market in 2008 broke attendance records as the media embraced a new, improved Pioneer Park. Patrons that had avoided the Market due to its location were converted to regular customers, as the feeling of safety is evident with 10,000 patrons strolling the Market.

As the Downtown Farmers Market continued to expand, local food establishments also opened in the area, elevating the food culture. Tony Caputo’s Market and Deli (314 W. 300 South, 801-531-8669, www.caputosdeli.com) opened in April 1997. Finding immediate popularity for made-to-order deli sandwiches, the commuter crowd flocked to the neighborhood. Caputo’s has continually evolved and ranks among the best specialty food markets in America complete with a cheese cave, a chocolate file and an unrivaled selection of artisan foods. Caputo’s and the Downtown Farmers Market have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. Caputo’s vends their house-made products at the Market, sponsors Market programs and educates the community about good, fair food. Furthermore, Caputo’s has supported many emerging food entrepreneurs from the Market and discovered new producers that now vend at the Market.
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Joining Caputo’s on the north end of the park are a variety of food-focused businesses including Aquarius Fish Co. (314 W. 300 South, 801-533-5653, www.aquariusfish.com) , a family-owned seafood market opening in 2001. That same year, Carlucci’s Bakery and Café (314 W. 300 South, 801-366-4484, www.carluccisbakery.com) opened selling high-quality baked goods and pastries featuring local, quality ingredients. In 2008, Bruges Waffles and Frites (336 W. 300 South, 801-363-4444, www.brugeswaffles.com) transitioned from a vending cart at the Downtown Farmers Market to their first brick-and-mortar shop on the north end of Pioneer Park. With a loyal fan base cultivated at the Downtown Farmers Market, the business was quick to establish and now includes four Utah locations.

On the south end of Pioneer Park, a six-lane, UDOT-managed thoroughfare separates the park and the retail parcels. When Tin Angel (365 W. 400 South, 801-328-4155, www.thetinangel.com) opened in 2007 there were few thriving businesses along 400 South. Co-Owner Kestrel Liedtke recalls, “The building we were renovating was very run down and had a sketchy history as did most of the area. Our friends and family told us we were crazy for thinking of putting our time and energy into the area. They all encouraged us to focus on a different neighborhood. But the argument we kept coming back to was that we wanted to be rooted in local food. We would never have even considered our current location if the Downtown Farmers Market had not been across the street.”
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Nearly a decade later, Tin Angel is a celebrated local establishment frequently included on the list of best restaurants throughout the state. Chef Jerry is committed to supporting local farms and producers, which is evident on Tin Angel’s seasonally-inspired menu. You may also spot him at the annual Chef Showdown at the Downtown Farmers Market where he has taken home four awards. Market visits on Saturday mornings are perfectly end capped with house-made Bloody Marys and leisurely brunches on Tin Angel’s patio.

In more recent years, the Pioneer Park neighborhood has continued to see new food businesses in the area including the renovation of an historic building that once housed Salt Lake’s first creamery and now contains The Rose Establishment (235 S. 400 West, 801-990-6270, www.theroseestb.com) (2010), a local cafe serving coffee, tea, baked goods and lunch; and Pallet (237 S. 400 West, 801-935-4431, www.eatpallet.com) (2013), a New American Bistro featuring craft cocktails, seasonal menus and a fetching modern design. For those seeking fresh and innovative dishes, the west side of Downtown SLC does not disappoint.

As the Downtown Farmers Market and the myriad of local food businesses near Pioneer Park continue to prosper, the neighborhood continues to face a variety of urban problems. For most of the week, Pioneer Park is underutilized and criminal activity is commonplace. The social service areas a couple blocks west of the park are overrun with both homeless in need of services and criminals hiding among the populace.

Despite the challenges, the future is promising as more residents move into the area with Garbett Homes’ Downtown 360 (360 S. 400 West) project slated to open in August 2016 with 151 units. The Redevelopment Agency’s Station Center to the west attracts mixed-use development and a year-round public market. To the north, The Gateway is under new ownership with pointed goals to create a thriving entertainment district. Perhaps most importantly, Utah’s community leaders are working together to find real solutions for Utah’s homeless population and the shelters that work in the neighborhood.

While those changes take shape, the food community organically creates a neighborhood brand around fresh and local food. Summed up best by Kestrel Liedtke of Tin Angel, “It has not been an easy ride setting up shop in this neighborhood. We feel that the name of Pioneer Park suits us as we are pioneers working the plow alongside Caputo's, Carlucci's, the Downtown Farmers Market and all the people who put their energy into carving out a place for local food. While it may not have been easy, we are grateful that the Farmers Market has been there laying the paving stones in the path or we could not have walked this trail. And honestly, we are happy that we did!”

Important dates:

-25th Anniversary Celebration
June 2 at Squatters Pub Brewery

-Downtown Farmers Market
Downtown Art and Craft Market
June 11 – October 22 at Pioneer Park
8 am to 2 pm

-Harvest Market at Gallivan Center
August 2 – October 18
4 pm to dusk

Details at slcfarmersmarket.org