New North Market director is dreaming big
In a few short months, North Market patrons will notice something missing, most notably, the lingering smell of grease that permeates the facility.
Rick Harrison Wolfe, the market's executive director, will usher through a $1.2-million project that includes a new ventilation system aimed at lifting the persistent odor that follows customers all the way to the dry cleaner.
"You'll still have that market smell -- in a good way," he said.
Wolfe said he's a big dreamer in a nonprofit world grounded in reality.
Among his visions is a new two-story, 10,000-square-foot annex with a rooftop patio where merchants can harvest their own produce and patrons can enjoy a repast.
"I want to preserve what we have and, obviously, we're doing things better," Wolfe said.
The long-term project, which hasn't gone beyond the discussion stage, would involve closing Spruce Street and building the new facility on the current North Market property.
Needless to say, many details -- such as cost, funding and a new parking configuration -- need to be determined.
"We're really going to have to find some really great corporate partners here in the neighborhood and the city," Wolfe said. "Corporate partners are going to be key in making this happen. That's the bottom line."
Wolfe, who replaced long-time director Dave Wible in May, is a Grandview Heights-area native who spent most of his professional career in San Francisco and Los Angeles, working in the corporate shoe industry.
After graduating from the University of Cincinnati, he moved to Chicago with the hopes of joining the ranks of advertising. But with a soft economy in the early 1990s, he got a job as a floor salesman for Cole Haan shoes and accessories, and quickly moved up the ranks.
When he was offered a job in the Golden State, he quickly pounced on it.
"I said, 'I'll take that West Coast thing.' "
He spent 15 years in California, most recently in L.A., working as vice president of brand development for Skechers.
After visiting some friends in central Ohio, he noticed some positive changes and said he wanted to be part of the emerging creative social scene: "I said, 'This is a really different place then when I left.' "
So Wolfe bought a food truck, named it the Cheesy Truck, packed up his belongings and made his way to the Capital City. He said he quickly made the rounds and built up a solid clientele. But it wasn't meant to be.
"Honestly, I just didn't love the business," Wolfe said.
He sold the truck, which is still in operation under the same name, and started sending out resumes, with thoughts of relocating once again.
"It was worldwide search, honestly," he said.
But a friend told him about the North Market opening, so he applied and eventually landed the job, hoping to put his experience as a small business owner, retail maven and branding expert to use.
"It sounds corny, but it is by far the most rewarding thing I've ever done," said Wolfe, who declined to divulge his salary.
"Here it's a lot of weight on my shoulders and it's a city icon and I feel responsible for it," he said.
"You have to be way more creative in the nonprofit world than you do in the corporate world," he said. "You have to figure out how to stretch a buck every day, every minute."
The North Market has 35 vendors, a third of which serve prepared meals and pay $3.12 per square foot. The remaining vendors -- which sell fresh produce, meats and other items -- pay $1.79 a square foot.
The market soon will welcome three other merchants: Pistacia Vera, a first-rate deli and a startup local foods business, Wolfe said. He declined to reveal the names of the latter two businesses because leases have not yet been signed.
Also, he will reconfigure the merchant layout to improve flow and is looking at expanded hours for the market.
The market, which operates as North Market Development Authority, is technically owned by the city of Columbus, which recently appropriated the money for the new exhaust system.
The facility brings in 1 million visitors and $1.2 million annually, 50 percent of which comes from merchant rent, 40 percent from parking revenue and 10 percent from fundraising.
Wolfe, 44, also is looking at a relative rarity at the 33,800-square-foot market -- a vacancy.
There is a 4,000-square-foot spot on the south side of the market, most recently home to the Dispatch Kitchen, whose lease expired in early August.
Prior to that, it was occupied by Frank's and Braddock's, two diner concepts.
Wolfe sees the space being used for cooking demonstrations and beer and wine tastings.
"It's not going to be a restaurant again," Wolfe said. "It's not the best use of the space, nor did it work."