Traditional markets for fresh foods – fruit and veg, meat, fish, cheese, baked goods, local specialties – have many stalls, many vendors, all in one place.
Viewing this as an economist, I see some of the vendors competing: several greengrocers, several butchers. Consumers gain from that competition, in terms of price, quality, and variety. And I see that such traditional markets can deteriorate due to two kinds of free-rider problem – one in general governance and management, the other in maintaining both competition and quality within the market. For both of these, a good system of market management is needed.
Modern supermarkets and shopping malls represent the privatization of this public market management function: control of an entire market site by a single profit-making company. That company can then solve the free-rider problems on its own terms, acting as a (very local) monopoly and appropriating some of the consumer benefits. This loss to consumers is a price we pay for neglecting the management of traditional municipal markets.
But we lose more than that. The replacement of traditional markets by supermarkets replaces a lot of independent businesses with a big business; it replaces a beautiful and welcoming public place with cold commercial aisles; and it greatly reduces the channels by which small local producers can get their products to market.
Here are some good information sources.
Municipal Institute of Barcelona Markets Website (English version) of the governing board for Barcelona’s municipal markets. Shows a bit how it’s done.
Urbact Markets: markets are the heart, soul and motor of cities. This is the report (2015) of the Urbact Markets European project to promote urban markets, in which several cities and regions took part: Attica (Greece), Dublin (Ireland), Westminster (United Kingdom), Turin (Italy), Suceava (Romania), Toulouse (France), Wrocław (Poland), Pécs (Hungary) and Barcelona.
Understanding London’s Markets. Mayor of London (2017)
Saving our city centres, one local market at a time. Julian Dobson, The Guardian (2015) This is an excerpt from his book How to Save Our Town Centres.