Up and down the West Coast of the US, Amazon’s latest venture is attracting nervous glimpses from farmer’s markets and food retailers. AmazonFresh offers same-day grocery deliveries and represents the gargantuan e-retailer’s first foray into its homeland’s €457bn-a-year food industry. But where does this leave the humble market place and the small independents?
Over the past few months Monocle has encountered a number of inspiring stories across the globe that offer hope to those who still believe in traditional markets and recognise their wider value to the communities they serve. They’re buildings and spaces that are evocative, noisy, messy – a nexus of food, of course, but also a meeting point for people with stories to tell and knowledge to impart.
In July we headed to Porto to visit the Mercado do Bolhão. Once mooted to become the site of luxury flats, the 160-year-old open-air gem has been saved by overwhelming public support. Today at the market you can run your hands down the original iron-work railing, stop for a glass of white and grilled sardines at a sun-dappled table or buy fruit, vegetables, cheese or flowers. If the mood takes you, maybe even procure a live chicken from Lucinda Leites, a 79-year-old stallholder who has worked here since the early 1940s. She’s one of the few people who can remember when the neoclassical pile was the city’s main source of food. And although this may never be the case again – the market’s role has changed – it has never been more important as a social space, a visit to Mercado do Bolhão cannot be simulated by checking a box on a delivery form.
Last month I also found my way to Helsinki’s newly reopened waterside food market Vanha Kauppahalli, where rows of pinewood stalls have undergone a €15m revamp courtesy of the Finnish taxpayer. Just like at the Mercado do Bolhão, a quick walk around the ornate Gustav Nyström-designed building reveals fifth-generation fishmongers vying for trade against traditional bakeries, brightly coloured smoothies and sweet Finnish confectionary. There is also a new generation of young entrepreneurs such as 26-year-old Anna Härö, whose butcher’s shop opened this summer and has taken up the vanguard of keeping the market’s retail offerings up to date.
Finally, a few weeks ago I poked my nose in at Mathallen, a former factory turned covered market in the newly regenerated Vulkan area of Oslo – needless to say, people have flocked here for the speciality coffee, street food and people watching. Local developers Aspellin Ramm’s intelligent selection of quality-driven retailers goes to show that food markets aren’t doomed to be beautiful anachronisms or merely propped up by public sympathy. Instead they can be the spaces spearheading an area’s regeneration.
So if consumers on the West Coast are interested in a really fresh approach to shopping – maybe they should stop clicking and instead head to their local food market to pick up something altogether more meaningful.
Josh Fehnert is edits section editor for Monocle.