Monday, March 19, 2007

The Closing of America’s Oldest Market

A Farewell To Arthur's Market

He pointed at the exposed brick wall from where he was seated at the table.
“Over there was the deli.
We used to come and get sandwiches. And they always had great big barrels full of pickles.” Jenny’s grandfather hadn’t been inside Arthur’s Market since he was a boy. He had come out this time to watch his granddaughter play the old piano that was tucked in alongside shelves of coffee, pasta sauce, loose rolls of toilet paper and cereal. The piano was adjacent to the old deli wall.
“We used to walk down here to get icecreams when Judy lived in the Stockade,”
Jen’s uncle added, recounting for us the arrangement of the old shop some thirty years after his father had bought pickles at the deli.
As we looked at it we imagined that past.
What we saw however was the quaint coffee shop and performance space we’d come to play at, skirted with just enough corner market products to officially hang on to the distinction of America’s oldest market.
Outside the sign reads: Arthur’s Market since 1795.
In all of my time performing music there are few places I’ve played at that are as comfortable and homey as Arthur’s Market.
Arranged more like a family living room than a café, Arthur’s inherently creates a sense of welcome relaxation for all artists who come to play on the throw carpet tucked in beside cozy couches and armchairs.
It’s the only café/market that makes me feel funny when my shoes are on inside.
Curling up on a couch or even crazy legged at the table I kick off my red corduroy shoes like I would at home.
I admire the art for sale that poses as the market’s décor, I pick up a book from off the coffee table, or I dance throughout the roomy market to the sounds of the Hobo Banned.
Saturday night March 17th, members of the B3nson Collective stormed Arthur’s Market with an eclectic mix of joyously melancholic indie folk. The show was bookended by B3nson Collective members Sgt. Dunbar and The Hobo Banned and We Are Jeneric, with a middle set played by country western yodeler Corey Hough.
The only place I’ve ever seen a bigger pile of instruments was in my middle school band room.
It was the third and final of the B3nson Collective’s monthly Arthur’s Market gigs.

Within a month the oldest market in America will be a restaurant as Arthur’s Market passes out of the hands of its current ownership.
Richard Genest,, who also owns the Moon and River Café just down the street, chose not to comment on the closing of the market.
I spoke to him over the phone, but instead of talking about the store’s closing he chose to pass along his personal compliments about the energy of the music scene he loves so much, the scene in which the B3nson Collective has become a monthly staple.
He was able to express only the joy that he sees in musicians that play at his establishments.
In my many casual conversations with Richard he always talks about the joy of music in grand statements.
He believes that music is what our country needs in order to heal. And you can’t help but agree and nod your head as if listening to a health practitioner prescribe for you your medicine. And it feels good to think that my love for music might be a remedy for the ills of our country’s postindustrial and postmodern psychological depression.
In his compliments for the musicians, I can’t help but think about Richard’s role in the music scene.
As owner of two coffee shops he built a nest for musicians to land at. He built a social center for people to flock to: a hub of music, comfort, food, and drink. He gave us the space to fill his prescription.
As a market, however, the Arthur’s Market we played at on Saturday was just barely hanging on to the old model.
Its small selection of fresh produce, its 2/3rds empty refrigerator, its three bottles of olive oil were displayed more to allow the Market to keep the title as oldest market in America than to serve the community as a corner market. And as it transforms into a restaurant we are made to watch the last breath of the way things were in this country.
Before the automobile drove the middle class out to the suburbs and into their single-family homes the corner market used to be at the heart of the vibrant cities of the past; cities where people worked and lived.
The corner market was where a community shopped, saw each other, passed rumors, cracked jokes. The city was full of neighborhoods where you could walk to buy anything you might need. This is what I imagine as I think about the end of Arthur’s Market.
To watch an eccentric music venue go is to watch one kind of community get the pinch.
But to watch America’s oldest corner market go is to be allowed one more time to contemplate the death of America’s cities. When Richard prescribes music as the cure for America I wonder if he really means to prescribe the old sense of community we’ve lost with the advent of suburbia. The joy of live music brings people back to the downtown for a night of celebration, but a city full of things you can walk to and from –full of middle class people spending their hard earned cash at family stores, where proprietors exchange stories with their customers who are also their neighbors, where the people live more intimately together –it seems to me that this was what Richard’s real prescription might be.
Thankfully, Schenectady’s Stockade District will not be void of live music after Arthur’s Market closes, nor will it be void of Richard who will continue to run the charming Moon and River Café just down the road.
The B3nson Collective and many, many other area musicians will continue to play the small coffee shop on South Ferry St.
I’ve only known Arthur’s Market for three months but I’ve come to love the place like a home.
To hear that it’s changing hands is heartbreaking. Like many of the musicians in the Capital Region I will mourn the loss of one of the area’s most charming venues.
Goodbye Arthur’s Market and thanks for the out of tune piano, the comfy retro couches, the house drum set, the bathroom in the kitchen, the table of fresh fruits and veggies, and the home away from home atmosphere.

Arthur’s Market, you will certainly be missed.

Arthur’s Market & Moon and River Café:
Moon & River Café Calendar:
Fortifying the Stockade:
I Spy Schenectady:
The B3nson Collective:


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