OnMilwaukee.com has a great review of the St. Paul Fish Company, which is probably my favorite place in the entire public market. However it got me to thinking about the successes and failures at the market. So here is a comment I posted in the Talk Back of that review:
Well we can all safely say that the idea of a public market in Milwaukee cannot be called anything but an absolute failure. I think people had their hearts in the right place and they really thought with all of this renewed interest in healthy, local eating that it would be successful. I know I did. Looking back, I think there really never was the demand but Milwaukee’s “leaders” saw it in other Cities and just said “we have to have it!” Kind of reminds me of light rail. Local chefs were excited about the possibilities and everyone was talking about how this was going to be this central gathering place for farmers, consumers, and chefs. Unfortunately that never materialized.
If there was a demand for a market, Michael Fields produce would have been the most successful business in the market. Instead it was part of the early exodus. That should have been the first warning sign. When a great local farmer cannot make it at the most high profile public market in the area, you have really misread your customer base. I think the high rents at the market are part of the reason these places fail. El Rey can sell the same stuff for much cheaper at its own markets, and they are a lot more fun to shop at. I also think that every City now has a seasonal farmer’s market, which is great but has weakened the demand for a centralized public market that requires high traffic volumes to succeed. I believe they thought the fact that it would be open year round was a benefit but what kind of local produce can you get in the winter? So it really was no different than Outpost or Sendiks in terms of its off-season offerings.
With that being said, I am so happy they realized it was a failure early on, replaced the original managers, and embraced the “high end food court” concept. I know at first they were 100 percent opposed to that but they realized that in order to not have a completely vacant building they had to give the people what they want, and what they want is fast, delicious food. I think they are really doing a great job creating an alternative to the Grand Avenue food court and a nice place for happy hour and special events. I still kind of think some kind of sit down restaurant on the second floor would be a welcome addition.