White tents overrun Harrison Ave., clustered across parking lots as far as the eye can see. Excited hands fumble through stacks of handmade prints and collections of vintage art. Jewelry swings from humble displays, each unique piece drawing the attention of passersby, young and old. Conversations about soy candles and locally-grown zucchini can be overheard above footsteps on asphalt. Most people can be seen clutching a bundle of sunflowers or an iced coffee. Custom ice cream sandwiches incite smiles and sticky fingers, while the smell of cooking onions and frying bacon looms somewhere in the distance, inviting explorers to stay for lunch.
Most Bostonians know this scene very well, but come May this typical Sunday in the South End will take on a new setting.
According to The Boston Globe, the South End Open Market at SoWa will temporarily relocate to a new site next season. The farmers market, artisan market, and food trucks that have sprawled across Harrison Ave. for the past decade will set up just a few blocks away, within the new Ink Block development, in May. Although the market has found incredible success in its current location—drawing over 10,000 visitors every weekend, according to boston.com—its temporary move is the first step in a complete reevaluation of the market which will eventually include another move to a state-owned property under I-93.
The announcement has shocked more people than just me—and I’ve spent quite a lot of time and money wandering the SoWa tents on too many Sundays. Many suburbanites and local millennials are confused about the upheaval of what seemed like a perfect situation, a frustration that Boston Magazine put more bluntly as it announced the news in an article entitled, “Oh Man, SoWa Is Going To Suck In 2017.” Despite complaints of people like me, who will miss the rustic setting along Harrison Ave. as we browse locally grown tomatoes in May, the decision of Chris Masci, the market’s owner, doesn’t look like is subject to change. The move stemmed from the dissolution of a business relationship between Masci and Mario Nicosia, a developer who owns the original SoWa property.
Their partnership began with a handshake in 2004 and ended in screams this past spring, leaving this past season as SoWa’s last in its current location. This business breakup has risen to petty proportions as the two haven’t spoken since last May, which seems a bit dramatic if you ask me. Beyond the silence, the dispute involves three lawsuits, trademark claims on either side, and allegations of greed and betrayal by the both of them.
Businesses acquire and dissolve constantly; things work and they don’t. This isn’t anything new for Boston, a city that just severed ties with the idea of hosting the Olympics more gracefully than Masci and Nicosia seem to be handling their farmers market dispute. Though some resentment is to be expected as this collaboration falls through, it seems ironic that these two are handling it so poorly. For 10 years they had been working together on facilitating an environment that seems to highlight the ability for collaboration and support of all things local.
SoWa is a setting that fosters teamwork and partnership. Vendors and sellers rely on the loyalty of the public to support small businesses instead of the overwhelming presence of large commercial retailers. People go to the market to buy their organic bouquets and handmade trinkets, of course, but another feature of SoWa is the ability to avoid the drama and politics that seems to characterize big business. Shoppers browse tents to feel good about what they are buying, who they are supporting, and the environment they are encouraging. Not only does the behavior between Masci and Nicosia threaten the success of the market, but the honesty of what it stands for. The move to a less than desireable location threatens vendors’ ability to maintain the same level of success they have had for the past decade. With rumors of Nicosia opening a rival market after the move, their drama may force the independent retailers, who pride themselves on collaboration, to adjust to a competitive strategy.
Although the consequences of this market mayhem will really take effect next spring, it’s clear that the two ex-partners are being closed-minded about the future of their “open” market.
Featured Image by Bennet Johnson / Heights Editor