Ode to the Original City Market

The trials and triumphs of one of the city’s great landmarks.

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If you needed imported olives, locally cured bacon, fresh pineapple, or a live chicken in Indianapolis in the first half of the 20th century, there would have been a one-stop shop for everything—City Market.

When the city constructed the Diedrich Bohlen–designed building in 1886, fair-weather street vendors suddenly had to fill their stalls in an enclosed year-round location. To do that, many began to import exotic foods to keep the stands full and fresh. Some sought out items they remembered from their homelands, like Dominic and Guy Montani’s D. Montani & Co. stand, which offered pure olive oil, mocha, and java inspired by the owners’ native Lourenza, Italy. German-born Karl Klemm opened Klemm’s German Sausage & Meats at City Market in 1913, selling hand-prepared sausages, cured bacon, and other proteins—the sort of choices that today’s gastronomes swoon over at artisan counters like Claus’ German Sausage & Meats, the descendant of Klemm’s.

In 1914, new stalls arrived, like Paolo (Little Jim) and Concetta Corsaro’s fruit stand, and soon the market grew large enough to be divided into three sections: meats, vegetables, and Tomlinson Hall, with fish, canned goods, flour, and other foodstuffs. More fresh-produce purveyors followed the Corsaros, including Joe and Diana Re (the spelling later changed to Ray) in 1925, a stall that later evolved into the current wholesale produce business Ray & Mascari. Shoppers could also buy olive oil, anchovies, tomato sauce, pasta, olives, and “fancy grade” salami at the stall of Jacob and Josephine Straffa. Even during the Depression, those with enough money could always find high-end fare at City Market.

But by the 1950s, the city was changing, and so was the market. The building showed signs of age and was still a couple of decades away from a major 1970s renovation, which added stalls and restaurants and lent the structure a described “French Quarter flair.” Customers moved to the suburbs. Vendors either packed up and left or found that they made more money serving lunches than selling fresh food.

Today, City Market is evolving back to its original purpose. The building hosts winter and summer farmers markets, attracting growers from the region. Executive director Stevi Stoez says that her mission is for the landmark to become a place where shoppers can once again buy “whole foods to fix in their own kitchens”—a treat for local foodies that would have been just another day at the market for their grandparents.

 

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