With the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market gearing up across the street at 8:30 a.m. on a recent Wednesday, six elderly Asian women line up their wares across the front of the Grant Building and entreat pedestrians, calling softly: “Buy. You buy.” Canned Bartlett pears, bagged carrots and onions, boxes of Land O’ Lakes American cheese, packages of whole-wheat bagels, jars of Algood peanut butter, dried beans, sesame crackers and squat cans of evaporated milk were neatly displayed at their feet, along with grape juice and orange juice in plastic liters — clearly food obtained from community agencies’ free distribution programs.
We call it the plywood parade — the relentless march up Market Street from Fifth to Eighth of boarded-up or erratically open storefronts, emptying offices in the upper stories and crumbling facades. Some 31 percent of the storefronts on this stretch of Market Street are vacant. Both local government and businesses are trying to restore this faded area of Market Street into a vibrant commercial center. The three mid-Market blocks mostly look like hell.