POSTED Tue. Nov 5, 2013
On the future of the French Market
Adam Karlin
Written by ADAM KARLIN
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If you haven’t read The Lens today, check out CW Cannon’s excellent piece on the debate over the French Market. A few weeks ago, Nola.com reported on a proposal from market executive director Jon Smith to turf out vendors selling cheap Chinese-made souvenirs and replace them with artisans, handmade crafts and local produce.

While I’m always in favor of discovering the true and local loveliness of New Orleans, I also nodded along as Cannon argued such a change was a rejection of the market’s identity, which has always embraced the cheap and the handcrafted. And that’s partly because the people selling the cheap stuff are a working class substrata of our local community, representing a far greater range of religions, nationalities and skin colors then you may find at the average Etsy craft fair.

Cannon’s point: the guy from Ghana hustling fake Ed Hardy hats is as authentic and vital to the city as the hipster selling artisan popsicles with Kickstarter seed funding (maybe more so. The Ghananian may just raise his children here, while the popsicles might well move on to Brooklyn). Funny stories about the grit and grime of the old marketplace also ensue. Cannon also makes the valid point that there may not be enough Quarter residents left to support a daily produce market.

The flip side is this: are the other curated markets in the city so demographically homogenous? The Frenchman St night market, for example, does roaring business, and the vendors and customers represent a nice slice of the local demographic pie – not as international as the French Market crew, but hardly a bowl of vanilla ice cream, either. And when you buy something there, you know it’s made in New Orleans, with pride.

What are your thoughts? Should the French Market be revamped into a locally sourced bazaar of handcrafted New Orleans arts and crafts? Or are its alligator heads, shot glasses and cheerful tackiness – and the international crowd hawking all of the above – integral to the soul of the city?

Postscript: What would I like to see at the French Market? Personally, I’d love an Asian style hawker center representing some of the city’s top restaurants and food trucks, serving budgets from cheap to high end. Hawker Centers are essentially conglomerations of hygienic street food stalls, each selling one or two selected dishes. They’re huge across Southeast Asia, effectively replacing our sterile mall food courts. You get the madcap chaos of a market with the cleanliness of a well run cafeteria and the diversity of festival food offerings. There isn’t anything like this in America, but I feel like New Orleans is both food-crazy and informal enough to serve as an excellent testing ground.

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