City Market: Survey says...

A team of UVA students questioned nearly 400 Charlottesville City Market goers over the course of the summer, and the results are in.

Earlier this year, a task force was formed to explore the idea of a new, more permanent home for the popular market, which has been in the city-owned Water Street parking lot for over 30 years. But after conducting their owner surveys and bringing in an "internationally known" farmer's market consultant, the task force determined that the market should remain downtown. Now they've recommended that the city create a permanent "market district" so that market organizers can start moving forward with development plans and fundraising.

According to City Market organizers, the student survey was an attempt to better understand the market's customers and the way the market is used. Now the survey is finished, they say it shows that the market is a valuable economic engine for the downtown area. With a permanent location and infrastructure, organizers say the market could be open every day instead of just on Saturdays.

Of course, that's not a new idea. Back in 2007, the city put up $150,000 to sponsor a design contest to generate ideas for would-be developers to develop both Water Street parking lots, and they all included permanent locations for the city market. There were just a few problems: the city doesn't own one of the lots, no developers showed any interest, and the economy tanked.

According to the completed survey, which UVA and other local media reported on, about 5,500 people attend the market every week. Seventy percent of those surveyed combine the visit with a trip to the Downtown Mall, 35 percent consider "local food" to be that produced or grown within a 100-mile radius, and the average spent is about $20 to $30 a visit.

Sixty-five percent of respondents said they drive to the market (average drive time about 10 minutes), and 33 percent said they go once a week. Vegetables, fruits, and prepared foods are the top-three purchases (in order), and August is the most popular month.

However, other interesting findings were not mentioned in a UVA press release or by the local media. For instance, 70 percent of those surveyed were women, 70 percent reported they did not have children, and 45 percent had graduate degrees. What's more, the largest percentage of wage earners, 14 percent, said they make $100,000 or more. And most striking: 81 percent reported being white, while only 2 percent reported being African American, despite the fact that Friendship Court, a largely African American-occupied apartment complex, is just a block away from the market.

"When the market has a permanent site, it will be interesting to see if the vendor mix broadens so the customer base matches the demographics of people living in town," says architecture professor Beth Meyer, whose students are working on designs for the new market.

Water Street, Vinegar Hill, and Monticello Avenue near Frank Ix and Friendship Court are all locations being considered, says Meyer, as each has a different strength relative to its size, location and proximity to neighborhoods that don't have grocery stores nearby.

As Meyer mentions, another survey by the same UVA team is already being planned for next summer, and will attempt to determined who does not use the market and why.