Pittsburgh Public Market offers eclectic selection

By Larissa Gula

Pittsburgh Public Market

Produce Terminal on 1212 Smallman St., between 16th and 17th… Pittsburgh Public Market

Produce Terminal on 1212 Smallman St., between 16th and 17th streets

Friday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.


Pittsburgh might have professional sports teams, great universities and vibrant neighborhoods, but until recently, it lacked one ingredient: a public market.

The new Pittsburgh Public Market attempts to fill this niche. Located within an old warehouse, it’s the first market of its kind in Pittsburgh since 1965, according to manager Cindy Cassell.

“This is Pittsburgh’s historic market district. We thought this was a nice complement to what the Strip offers,” Cassell said. “Most major cities have public markets. Other markets are found in old terminal-type buildings. The buildings lend themselves to the historic market concept.”

The team studied other public markets to see what amenities were often included. Cassell discovered that other markets were “often the hearts and souls of the community.”

“They were gathering places,” she said. “People enjoy that. There are great products. They’re supporting the local economy and agriculture. Markets are a wonderful way to showcase the best of what the region offers, because they do offer local products and local farms.”

The businesses featured in the market are locally owned and operated, although they sometimes include vendors from outside of Pittsburgh who have teamed up with local businesses, offering what Cassell deemed the “best [products] in the region.”

The Produce Terminal, where the market is located, is an old warehouse-like structure with plastered walls, an overhead roof and doors that are open or shut depending on the weather outside.

Visitors can stroll down aisle after aisle and from vendor to vendor. Cooking demonstrations or band performances take place in a corner near chairs and tables, keeping the energy and noise levels high.

The whole building is a collage of smells, from fresh fruits and baked bread to juicy ribs and greasy potatoes. People chit-chat between stands, and it isn’t uncommon to hear excited conversation about how a sample tastes.

The market features organic produce, a bakery, jewelry and a pet food and toy stand. There are also two Indian food vendors, which the Strip District formerly lacked, Cassell said.

“We approve things based on how the product adds diversity to the market as well as the entire Strip,” Cassell said.

Several featured vendors are new or had originally been based at home before coming to the market. Cassell said she hopes other businesses will follow suit.

One new business is Christopher’s Collages. Christopher Nix has set up a table and a backdrop displaying his artwork at the market.

He creates collages in which he turns a simple image outline, like the Steelers’ logo, into a collage of hundreds of small images that fill the main outline. He spends as long as a month coming up with a list of what he wants in the collage, based on what people think he should include.

“The goal of the drawing is to find something for everyone to kind of relate to,” he said. “People ask if something is in there, and no one has stumped me yet.”

For Nix, the work has therapeutic qualities.

“This is something I do at night as a creative outlet after being at work all day,” Nix, a civil engineer, said. “It started when I made a Steelers picture for my dad. People saw it and loved it.”

He opened the stand at the suggestion of some of his family members.

“I’m just seeing how this will work out, but I think this will be the incubator for a small business,” he said.

In addition to arts and crafts, there are produce stands, like the one hosted by Nathan Holmes from Clarion River Organics. His stall was filled with brightly colored fruits and vegetables, as well as meats, including goat and rabbit, and cheeses. Employees offered samples from a table covered with fruit seeds.

“We raise and make food in a way that’s better for the earth and healthier for people and makes them feel better after eating it,” Holmes said as he offered a cup of tomato and watermelon slices to a customer.

This is Clarion River Organics’ first stand in Pittsburgh. The company usually sells to places like Whole Foods but wants to have more direct interaction with customers, Holmes said. Moving to the market allows other benefits as well.

Cassell summed up the new market as an intriguing option for students and residents alike.

“There’s affordable fresh food,” Cassell said, mentioning that seasonal vendors will be available during the holidays. “We have music playing. We hope to have cultural dances and demos. We want to become part of this community. It’ll just be fun.”