By David Pendered
The Sweet Auburn Curb Market is finally in a comfortable place, as its retail spaces are full and the Atlanta Streetcar promises to bring more customers to its doors near Grady Memorial Hospital.
“People won’t hesitate to jump on the Streetcar from the 191 [office tower near Woodruff Park] and ride to the market,” Pamela Joiner, the market’s director, on Tuesday told a committee of the Atlanta City Council.
Shop clerk Karen Bullock is ready to serve customers, old and new, at the market’s Sweet Auburn Bakery. Tuesday afternoon, Bullock was peeling a fresh batch of saucer-sized chocolate chip pecan cookies off parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Priced at $1.25 each, the cookies caught attention.
Bullock had her hands full. As she was restocking shelves, customers were asking details about other treats for sale. Bullock has worked at the bakery since December, one of 150 employees who have gainful employment at the market.
The city market serves a hodgepodge of purposes. Mainly, it provides fresh meat and produce in a food desert. But it provides a social purpose, as well, serving as a low-cost place for entrepreneurs to test concepts and hone their products. Joiner is available to provide business guidance and advice on where to find more help.
Grindhouse Killer Burgers and Bell Street Burritos are just two of the most recent graduates of the market, which have gone on to open doors beyond the market.
“They proved their concept and opened full-time locations in other parts of the city,” said Matthew Kulinski, a board member of the Sweet Auburn Curb Market who works in marketing with the Georgia Department of Agriculture. “Pam does a great job of setting up a business plan and helping them grow and thrive. … Going forward, there’s a lot of potential and opportunities.”
Atlanta’s curb market has long seemed to be a work in progress. For every highlight that comes, such as President Clinton’s visit in 1999 to taste some sweet potato cheesecake, there have seemed to be more than enough lows.
The market’s not been so easy to find, at its site a block north of Grady’s emergency room. Sometimes the products haven’t been so appealing, especially when tenants grumbled about how the place was run, and managers grumbled about interference from City Hall.
Today’s financial numbers tell the story of a revived market:
The market generated $8.8 million in revenues in 2013, a 19 percent increase over the prior year;
- Over 700,000 shoppers entered the market, a 20 percent increase over the prior year.
- The market celebrated 90 years of continuous operation on May 1, a feat for a business that grew from the Atlanta fire in 1917.
Joiner has served as the market’s manager since 2005. The tenants have been stabilized since she arrived. Joiner has sought to provide sensitivity in serving both long-time customers who favor certain vendors, and the new base of potential customers who are moving into the Old Fourth Ward and other nearby neighborhoods.
The market offers local foods, including Destiny Organics, and has started a a growers market that features local foods and accepts EBT. A composting program has turned over 200 tons of vegetable scraps into fertilizers that feed plants that are harvested and sold at the market. A nutrition education program includes partnerships with Grady Hospital, Project Open Hand and NEXT Steps Youth Entrepreneur Program to host cooking demonstrations and nutrition open houses, according to materials the market provided to the council.
“We want to keep what’s there, and bring in some different things, so it doesn’t lose its flavor or flair,” Joiner said. “It’s not Ponce City Market or Krog Street Market. It’s a city market. What people come to see is the completely unique experience.”