Cancel OK

Chicago Heard on the Street

Checking in at the Chicago International Produce Market

Chicago’s history of blue collar, salt-of-the-earth immigrants building skyscrapers and ethnically-based neighborhoods with names like Bucktown, Old Town, and even Hardscrabble (later renamed Bridgeport) reflect the town’s reputation for toughness and tenacity with a sentimental connection to its roots.

Steeped in history and tradition, what began as a town of 350 people in 1833 eventually grew into what was nicknamed the country’s “Second City” (after New York) on the southern shore of Lake Michigan and home to roughly 3 million people.  Outward growth continues unabated, expanding well into the area known as Chicagoland—named for the six counties that surround the city and include 65 percent of Illinois’ population of nearly 13 million.

It’s not surprising then that the Chicago International Produce Market (CIPM) reflects the city’s values.  Nestled among the Pilsen, McKinley Park, and Bridgeport neighborhoods, the market is surrounded by a mix of working class families, artists’ studios, college students, medical facilities, and manufacturing plants—a little bit of everything.  The same can be said of the terminal market’s merchants, with “old timer” industry veterans working alongside fourth or fifth generation novices.  

Changing with the Times, Remembering the Past

While Chicago has hosted a terminal market for over a century, the location has changed twice.  The longest running spot was the South Water Market that existed from the mid-1920s until 2002 when the market and most of its tenants moved to the current location at 2404 S. Wolcott Avenue, minutes from downtown Chicago.  Tim Fleming Jr., vice president of Strube Celery & Vegetable Company, is part of the only family enterprise that has been at all three Chicago terminals.

Since it was considered a historical landmark, the old South Water Market was renovated into a loft apartment complex called University Commons.  Jason Gonzalez, transportation manager for J. L. Gonzalez Produce, Inc. says it wasn’t just Chicago historians who were sentimental about the former market’s building.  “It’s very cool and nostalgic for some of the guys who used to do business down there,”he notes, saying a few even bought condominiums in the renovated building.

The current market’s official hours are weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to noon, though, in general, many businesses make their own hours—starting as early at 3:30 a.m. to accommodate customers and some opening for limited hours on weekends.  As a wholesale only operation, the CIPM’s customers, according to Gonzalez, tend to be “restaurants, independent store owners, retailers, chains…even churches and food depositories.”  The market is open year-round, only closing for six major holidays.

With Midway Airport nearby and the vast O’Hare International Airport about a half-hour to the northwest, air transport is easy to arrange.  Shipment to and from the market comes exclusively via truck and most product is shipped over land, taking advantage of the city’s location in the heart of the country and not far from Canada.