For more explanation of this month’s theme, “millennials in thirty things,” check out this post.

Just a few years ago (possibly even just last year), an indoor market opened up in downtown Grand Rapids.  It is essentially a large building populated by local businesses, catering to people who are sick of big business stores.  It is modern, sleek, and aimed at “revitalizing” the downtown area.  It even hosts a farmers’ market on Saturday mornings.

There is also one in Milwaukee, where I live, and doing some internet research, they seem to be popular across the country.  But here is something I’ve noticed—downtown markets are all the same.  No matter what downtown market you go to, they will have the exact same stores and be populated by the same people.  Let me break it down for you:

  • Fishmonger displaying huge fish. Also has a lunch counter (where they serve things that are not fish).
  • Zazzy oil store that has all sorts of varieties olive oils, vinegars and balsamics, staffed by super eager older ladies who love talking about olive oils.
  • Dessert/bakery place named so that you think it was started by a single woman pulling herself up by the bootstraps, but you never see her and you question whether she is even real.
  • Taco joint staffed entirely by Latinos and one outgoing white college girl.
  • Wine/cheese bar whose only customers seem to be mid-40s divorcees.
  • General food store that has a lot of pre-packaged soups for sale.
  • Upstairs area devoted to seating and nebulous corporate offices/meeting spaces.
  • Large kitchen used for cooking classes.
  • Room that says it hosts yoga classes (but you never see anyone in there ever).

I could go on.

My point is this—downtown markets are the hip places to go to buy from local businesses…but downtown markets across the country seem to be just as generic and ultimately flavorless as a corporate chain store.  Walking into a downtown market in any city, I know what is going to be available to me.  I already know what the outcome is going to be—I am going to window shop for a while (I would buy some olive oil, but the old lady clerks won’t leave me alone and are far too pushy), wish that I knew what to do with a giant dead fish so that I could say I bought a giant dead fish, and then I will go and buy some delicious tacos.  The outcome is predetermined because I know what the stores and the personalities of the workers are before I even walk through the door.

Downtown markets think they are hip and unique.  They really aren’t.  They are same no matter where you go.  And the same is true of Millennials.  Millennials work so hard to come off as quirky and original, but they really aren’t.  No matter where you go, Millennials will all be the same.  Instead of a wine/cheese bar, it is an interest in homebrewing beer.  Instead of an authentic taco joint, it is really trying to be a “citizen of the world.”  Downtown markets are plastered with signs saying things like “Eco Friendly!” “LEED Certified” and “Hybrid/Alternative Fuel Cars Only,” just as Millennials will loudly proclaim how “green” they are going and all the important work they are doing to save the environment by having a compost bin and perpetually saying that they are giving up meat.  Both downtown markets and Millennials love to throw around vague and essentially meaningless words like “community,” “artisan,” “craft,” and “gourmet.”

The relentless pursuit of trying to be unique and interesting is ultimately just another type of bland conformity.

But here despite all of that, I still really like downtown markets.  Yeah, they come off as smug, try-hard, not nearly as unique as they think they are, and will probably be gone in a decade or so…but at least they are earnest in what they are trying to do.  Despite all my problems with them, it is hard to be entirely coldly cynical towards places supporting local businesses and trying to make the world a better place in their own way.  It’s the same with Millennials; sure a lot of the Millennial culture pisses me off, but they generally mean well, and that is something that should probably be admired and encouraged.


  1. Bart

    So true. Never seen so many olive oil fanatics in one place.

    • paul

      I know, right?! I was there with my wife, and we needed olive oil…neither of us felt comfortable getting it there.

  2. Avatar

    As Frank Zappa said at a concert back in the anti-war, hippie and nonconformity days of the late 60s, “Everyone in this room is wearing a uniform, and don’t kid yourselves.”


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