.\\.,%\\v w .,%Nt \\\\IInis 4 Mike Flahive, Texas Department of Agriculture Buying and selling at a Texas farmers’ market, one of the few still operating in Texas But gains a parking lot! El Paso loses its City Market By Rina Ruttenberg and Luther Sperberg El Paso, Austin While many Texas cities are building new farmers’ markets in a sensible effort to lure suburban shoppers, re-establish tradition, and perhaps add a dash of vitality to downtown commerce, city officials in El Paso have gone and torn down their venerable and popular farmers’ market, swapping it for a parking lot. The 65-year-old City Market thrived smack dab in the middle of El Paso, half a block from the court house and one down from the city-county building. Now the market has been leveled and a layer of blacktop will be applied to the traces. So, no more ambling through the close aisles, poking into the overflowing bins and open cartons of farm-fresh produce; no more watching the women peel potatoes and fill 50-pound sacks with them for delivery to local restaurants; no more lunching in one of the market’s four eateries or drinking in the Voo-Doo Bar;.no more good-spirited haggling with produce stall owners over the price of beans; no more 88 mushrooms, instead of the $1.39 mushrooms out in the supermarkets. Just a parking lot. Nice. In 1970, the city of El Paso bought the square-block of land where the market sat from Mike Dipp, a wholesale grocer who had bought the market 30 years before. It was a good deal for the city at $530,000, and City Clerk Bill Rieger admits the land is now worth “three times what they paid for it at that time.” All the city had in mind when negotiating with Dipp was to use the land as a parking lot, but since then the city cut what some consider a better deal: “Eventually, and I really don’t think it will be long at all, the federal government is going to consolidate all of its El Paso agencies in a federal building to be built on the site of the present market,” Robert Gabel, El Paso’s director of management and budget told a reporter for El Paso Today magazine. “For instance,” Gabel added, “IRS will be moved downtown rather than being out in 4 The Texas Observer northeast El Paso.” Apparently, El Paso officialdom thinks it is better to have IRS downtown than a farmers’ market. Under the arrangement, El Paso and the feds will swap the market land for fifty to sixty acres of the 7,100-acre Castner Range, an abandoned military reservation eight miles to the northeast of downtown El Paso and still spiked with unexploded World War II-vintage artillery shells. Construction of the federal building is not expected to start for at least three or four years. Meanwhile, El Pasoans can drive by and look at their parking lot. When the city bought Dipp’s land, it said the market was operating under l marginal sanitary conditions. After its purchase, however, the city leased the land back to Dipp. He continued to rent the property to twenty or so produce dealers who kept the farmers’ market going. Although the site lacked loading facilities, nothing was done to alleviate congestion by either the city or Dipp. “It was a mess. The produce houses will be better off and more sanitary somewhere else,” Rieger said. But it seems the city’s sanitation objections were exclusive, for the market went on supplying uncomplaining local restaurants and groceries. And while the market’s major business was wholesaling, the place regularly teemed with individual shoppers who enjoyed the sidewalk-displayed fruits and vegetables and the wholesale prices that went with them. Rieger’s administrative assistant, Mary Lou Enriquez, said “A lot of the
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