OTTUMWA — The Market on Main is for sale. It is currently winding down operations, and a buyer is already interested in the building.
“Do we want it to survive? You bet,” said Steve Dust, CEO of the Legacy Foundation. “There are some great vendors in there, some really great food, and we want them to thrive in another location. But the building itself and our operation of it just doesn’t make sense anymore.”
Plans to establish a business in the Market’s current location began nearly 10 years ago. Early on, the site was envisioned as a source of revitalization for the downtown area and was spearheaded by the city and other community-interest groups. About $1 million went into its renovation, $350,000 of which came from the Legacy Foundation.
Originally, the Market was promoted as a grocery for local produce. Unfortunately, this concept was difficult to get off the ground.
“All of us want the rural local food industry to take off and be successful, for the producers, and for the community,” Dust said. “But it is just very difficult to actually make it happen, as is made evident in places all over the country. It takes a special set of circumstances for that concept to really thrive.”
As the years went on, the Market evolved into a “small-business incubator.” Entrepreneurs interested in starting their own businesses could rent retail space in the market, with the idea being that as they gained traction in that location, they could eventually move into commercial spaces downtown.
But this came with its own set of challenges. Many of the businesses didn’t gain the momentum required to move out, and some people operated their booths as more of a hobby than a real business venture. Vendors came and went, and while some found great success in the location, few moved out. Main Street Donuts and Two Eagles Native Designs established themselves in brick-and-mortar locations, while Amish Baskets established a large online presence. They’ve since become the largest distributor of Amish baskets in North America.
The Market evolved to operate as an event venue as well, with the space on Main Street serving as a bar and a place for live music performances.
However, the Market continued to face difficulties as the years went along. Slowly, different investors began to drop out, and the Legacy Foundation assumed full ownership and responsibility for its operation.
“It became evident to the Foundation over a period of years that the group of people that were working on it, including ourselves, just didn’t have the horsepower to figure out how to make this concept work,” Dust explained.
The decision to shut the Market down was made shortly after Dust’s arrival at the Foundation in 2018. Dust said it was a difficult decision, as many at the Foundation enjoy the Market and felt a personal investment in its success.
“It’s a great place to pop in and have lunch or dinner when you’re on the go,” Dust said. “Friendly people, and we have events ourselves down there, and they’ve catered our events and done a terrific job, so we’re all kind of personally involved in it too. We’d like to see it survive and thrive.”
The current vendors have been cooperative and understanding, and Dust said the Foundation will continue to work with them to help them make the transition. Shiloh Seim, who’s been the Market’s operations manager for a number of years, will continue to work with the Foundation.
Dust said that ideally, the space would be sold to a business that has a similar community-oriented vision for the location. While that might not ultimately be possible, Dust said the Foundation wants to make sure that whatever buyer takes the building over has some plan to contribute to the revitalization of the downtown area.
“Things change. And organizations change,” he said. “Did it work out? No. Is it a failure? No. The thing we need to keep in mind is that corner is just a dynamite location, and it’s important to our city. The right operation will be found to put in there.”