Given the new fascination with food halls in America, you would have to be a bureaucrat to consider tearing down a unique covered market right now. But city bean counters are planning exactly that with a 68-year-old Caribbean cornucopia in Williamsburg.
Under one skylit roof at Moore Street Market you can find three varieties of avocados and a dozen types of root vegetables, papayas the size of footballs, plantains and plantain leaves, sofrito, herbal Viagra and a bizarre array of inedibles, from CDs to haircuts to chile-infused shampoo. For non-cooks it sells freshly made pasteles and roast pork and houses an aromatic lunch counter and steam table café. And if you aren’t sure what to do with malanga or yautia, other shoppers—men and women—will provide a recipe in Spanglish or sign language or both.
All that would be sacrificed for new housing—and new mouths to feed—unless the Project for Public Spaces can turn a $200,000 federal grant into an irrefutable argument for making the market profitable. Luckily, there’s a model just across the river, in another of the four public markets established by the ultimate anti-bureaucrat, Fiorello LaGuardia, after the Depression to get food vendors off the filthy streets.
Unlike the Arthur Avenue Market in the Bronx, which has always been robust, and the market in East Harlem, which is barely on life support, the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side has been reborn. You can still get all the Goya you can carry, alongside artisanal chorizo and cheese. A neighborhood provi- sioner has become a destination.
Message to City Hall: Where food shoppers go these days, culinary tourists will follow. Even on the L train.