Greenmarket returns with strong emotions, fewer vendors


By Skye H. McFarlane

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Peggy Dagosto sampled the produce at the Greenmarket last week.

A gray sky threatened rain, but it could not dim the palette of tomato red, apple green and home-baked berry pie blue that spread out along Cedar St. Thursday afternoon.

After eight months of searching for a new temporary home, the World Trade Center Greenmarket returned Aug. 16 with a space on the southern sidewalk of Zuccotti Park. In its new location, the well-loved farmers’ market faces a space crunch, an uncertain future and stiff competition from the falafel vendors down the block. But despite the obstacles, Downtowners were delighted last week to have the market back.

“It took a lot of work by a lot of people working together to find them a spot…It’s great that it’s open now for August, when all the produce starts coming in,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, a lower Broadway resident who has fought ardently for the Greenmarket as the chairperson of Community Board 1’s World Trade Center Committee. “It’s a huge improvement for the neighborhood, especially when most people live out of the box with Fresh Direct.”

In a neighborhood with few grocery stores, the Greenmarket is a welcome source of fresh local produce and preservative-free baked goods. But to long-time residents and office workers, the W.T.C. Greenmarket often strikes a deeper chord as a reminder of the bustling Trade Center plaza in the days before 9/11.

“On 9/11 [a Tuesday], I had 12 farmers at the market. We had 14 on Thursdays back then. And the first thing they asked me after it happened was, ‘When can we get back?’ Everybody wanted to come back,” said Joe Cuniglio, who has managed the W.T.C. Greenmarket since 1993.

Bringing the Greenmarket back amid heightened security and an unprecedented rebuilding effort, however, has proved challenging. In 2003, the market reopened inside Zuccotti Park (then called Liberty Plaza) — the urban plaza catty corner to the W.T.C. site and across from the Deutsche Bank building. Then, in 2004, the market moved onto Church St. outside the temporary PATH W.T.C. station entrance, clearing the way for the plaza to be renovated. But the PATH entrance was always slated for demolition, to make way for the permanent transit hub at the site. So, the market began to search for another temporary locale.

The Greenmarket had its eye on the plaza outside 7 W.T.C., but Silverstein Properties denied the market’s request, saying that the tents and trucks might pose a safety hazard in the event of an evacuation at 7 W.T.C. The Greenmarket then asked to return to the newly renovated Zuccotti Park, but negotiations with Brookfield, the owner of the plaza, moved slowly. At the end of 2006, the Greenmarket was forced to vacate the PATH site, leaving the farmers without a marketplace.

With C.B. 1 clamoring to have the market back, the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center and the city Dept. of Transportation both joined in the negotiations. The market had wanted to set up shop along the northern side of Zuccotti Park, where the sidewalk space is more generous, but once again, security concerns threw up a roadblock.

Matt Cherry, a Brookfield spokesperson, said the company was afraid that security officers stationed inside 1 Liberty Plaza, on the north side of Liberty St., would not be able to see through the Greenmarket tents to monitor activities in the park.

Eventually, with Brookfield’s blessing, the Greenmarket and the D.O.T. worked out a permit for 70 feet of curbside along the southern edge of the park. The permit runs through Thanksgiving, but Michael Hurwitz, the director of the citywide Greenmarket program, said Friday that he is confident that the agreement can be extended. The market will operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays, just as it has for many years.

Though happy to have a site once more, the marketers were disappointed that the current space can only hold three vendors — one less than the spot by the PATH station and far fewer than the 12 stalls it had in the middle of Liberty Plaza in 2003. On Thursday, the market’s curbside was even smaller, since the popular falafel vendors on Cedar St. had not yet been informed that the Greenmarket now has rights to the space.

Greenmarket proponents hope that a full-fledged market will someday return to the rebuilt World Trade Center complex, but the Port Authority, which controls the site, has yet to guarantee the market a spot. Their hesitation? Security concerns — in this case the question of how to screen and manage the market’s produce trucks.

“We are holding onto the dream that we will always have place at the World Trade Center,” Hurwitz said. “I think our presence at Rockefeller Center demonstrates that the market can coexist despite security concerns. We believe this market [at the W.T.C.] brings a service to the community.”

As the lunch hour arrived on Thursday, Zuccotti Park began to fill with office workers. Though some of the professionals seemed baffled by the leafy greens, many looked at the market with an expression of pleasant amazement.

“A lot of people were surprised today to see us,” said Lobsang Tsering, who was manning the Meredith’s Bread bakery stand. The bakery and a general farm stand were the only vendors Thursday, but an apple farmer will round out the market on future dates.

Though business was somewhat sluggish under the overcast skies, Tsering said he thought that traffic would pick up once people realize that the market is back. Cuniglio pointed out that crowds have always been thinner in August, the most popular vacation time for city-dwellers.

Still, a steady flow of people weaved in and out of the stalls. Hughes hit up the market in the morning and took home $40 worth of produce. Robin Forst, the community liaison for the L.M.C.C.C., dropped by at 11:45 a.m. Around noon, a pair of neon-vested construction workers popped into the bakery to pick up cookies. A rotating cast of well-dressed women picked through the fresh vegetables, debating the merits of eggplant and deciding how many bags of arugula to take home for summer salad.

A few feet away, a middle-aged woman stood clutching a small bag of apples. Tears welled in her eyes. Her name was Lyudmila Korobeynikova and her connection to the Greenmarket may run deeper than devotees like Hughes or anyone else for that matter.

Korobeynikova, a law librarian who works in different offices on different days, was going to the 57th floor of W.T.C. Tower 1 on 9/11. When she worked at the W.T.C., she would go from the subway straight up into the tower., but on Sept. 11, she decided that she wanted some cheese from the Greenmarket. That detour, she explained, might have saved her life and she still carries her daybook entry from six years ago.

“Every time I see [the Greenmarket] I remember that day,” Korobeynikova said. “It’s so nice a place, but even years after, it’s hard to be here.”