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From 1813-1873, the current location of the North Market housed a cemetery known as the North Graveyard. After negotiations with city developers, grave removal and relocation began in 1872. In 1876, a market house as well as other small businesses and restaurants were built on the land. This public space at 29 Spruce Street became the North Market. The North Market was the second of four public markets built throughout the city (North, East, West and Central) and is the only remaining public market.
The Central Market, built in 1850 at Town and Fourth Streets as a combination City Hall and public market, was torn down in 1966 to make way for urban renewal and today is the location of Columbus’s Greyhound bus station. The building once housing the West Market on South Gift Street is now a Boys and Girls Club. The East Market at Mt. Vernon and Miami Avenues was destroyed by fire in 1947.
In 1948, almost one year to the day of the fire at the East Market, the same tragedy struck the North Market (or North End Market as it was then called). The City of Columbus decided not to rebuild the market but merchants quickly pooled their funds to purchase a war surplus Quonset hut to house North Market. Though the merchants bought the building, the city retained ownership of the Market property.
The vitality of the Market began to wane post World War II as population shifted from the city to the suburbs and the development of supermarkets. The building of the Ohio Center and the temporary closing of High Street in the late 1970s caused the Market to hit rock bottom. Attempts to revive the once thriving institution were thwarted by the physical and mechanical limitations of the Quonset hut. The Market was operating on a month-to-month lease with the city. The future was far from secure.
During the 1980s a national, growing recognition of public markets emerged. This enabled Columbus residents to rediscover their market. That idea, along with the fear that the city would tear down the Market to develop a parking lot for the planned Greater Columbus Convention Center, drove the creation of the North Market Development Authority (NMDA). This not-for-profit group of shoppers and merchants was established to “preserve and promote the traditional and cultural aspects of the historic North Market.”
In 1988, NMDA led the Market’s recovery by negotiating a long-term lease with the city, effectively eliminating the threat of demolition. In 1989, the NMDA assumed daily operations of the market.
The initial staff of a Market Master and Executive Director, plus volunteer board members, the NMDA focused on the possibility of rehabilitating the Quonset hut. Physically bursting at the seams and on its last legs, the building was financially impractical to renovate. Even if the costly and extensive repairs were made, the Market would still be housed in a cramped Quonset hut, rather than a light, clean, functional marketplace.
The NMDA spearheaded a capital campaign to finance building renovations. The Market’s new home would be 60 percent larger than the Quonset hut with room for new merchants. After raising $5 million, the NMDA began construction in January 1995. In November 1995, the new North Market opened with 25 merchants.
North Market has been under the leadership of Executive Director Rick Harrison Wolfe since mid 2013.
- Williams, Brian (May 20, 2001). "Past Comes to Life as Burial Site is Combed". The Columbus Dispatch.