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A market, or marketplace, is a location where people regularly gather for the purchase and sale of provisions, livestock, and other goods. In different parts of the world, a market place may be described as a souk (from the Arabic), bazaar (from the Persian and Pakistan), a fixed mercado (Spanish), or itinerant tianguis (Mexico), or palengke (Philippines).

Some markets operate daily and are said to be permanent markets while others are held once a week or on less frequent specified days such as festival days and are said to be periodic markets. The form that a market adopts depends on its locality’s population, culture, ambient and geographic conditions. The term market covers many types of trading, as market squares, market halls and food halls, and their different varieties. Due to this, marketplaces can be situated both outdoors and indoors.

Markets have existed for as long as humans have engaged in trade. The earliest bazaars are believed to have originated in Persia, from where they spread to the rest of the Middle East and Europe. Documentary sources suggest that zoning policies confined trading to particular parts of cities from around 3,000 BCE, creating the conditions necessary for the emergence of a bazaar. Middle Eastern bazaars were typically long strips with stalls on either side and a covered roof designed to protect traders and purchasers from the fierce sun. In Europe, informal, unregulated markets gradually made way for a system of formal, chartered markets from the 12th century.

Throughout the Medieval period, increased regulation of marketplace practices, especially weights and measures, gave consumers confidence in the quality of market goods and the fairness of prices. Around the globe, markets have evolved in different ways depending on local ambient conditions, especially weather, tradition and culture. In the Middle East, markets tend to be covered, to protect traders and shoppers from the sun. In milder climates, markets are often open air. In Asia, a system of morning markets trading in fresh produce and night markets trading in non-perishables is common.

Today, markets can also be accessed electronically or on the internet through e-commerce platforms.

In many countries, shopping at a local market is a standard feature of daily life. Given the market’s role in ensuring food supply for a population, markets are often highly regulated by a central authority. In many places, designated market places have become listed sites of historic and architectural significance and represent part of a town or nation’s cultural assets. For these reasons, they are often popular tourist destinations.

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is thought to be one of the oldest continuously operating market buildings in existence and houses some 3600 retail shops

There are many different ways to classify markets. One way is to consider the nature of the buyer and the market’s place within the distribution system. This leads to two broad classes of market, namely retail market or wholesale markets.

The economist, Alfred Marshall classified markets according to time period. In this classification, there are three types of market; the very short period market where the supply of a commodity remains fixed. Perishables, such as fruit, vegetables, meat and fish fall into this group since goods must be sold within a few days and the quantity supplied is relatively inelastic.

The second group is the short period market where the time in which the quantity supplied can be increased by improving the scale of production (adding labor and other inputs but not by adding capital). Many non-perishable goods fall into this category. The third category is the long-period market where the length of time can be improved by capital investment.

Other ways to classify markets include its trading area (local, national or international); its physical format or its produce.

Major physical formats of markets are:

  • Bazaar: typically a covered market in the Middle East
  • Car boot sale – a type of market where people come together to trade household and garden goods; very popular in the United Kingdom
  • Dry market: a market selling durable goods such as fabric and electronics as distinguished from “wet markets”
  • E-commerce: an online marketplace for consumer products which can be sold anywhere in the world
  • Indoor market of any sort
  • Marketplace: an open space where a market is or was formerly held in a town
  • Market square in Europe: open area usually in town centre with stalls selling goods in a public square
  • Public market in the United States: an indoor, fixed market in a building and selling a variety of goods
  • Street market: a public street with stalls along one or more sides of the street
  • Floating market: where goods are sold from boats, chiefly found in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam
  • Night market: popular in many countries in Asia, opening at night and featuring much street food and a more leisurely shopping experience. In Indonesia and Malaysia they are known as pasar malam
  • Wet market (also known as a public market): a market selling fresh meat, fish, produce, and other perishable goods as distinguished from “dry markets”.

Markets may feature a range of merchandise for sale, or they may be one of many specialist markets, such as:

  • Animal markets (i.e. livestock markets)
  • Antique markets
  • Farmers’ markets, focusing on fresh produce and gourmet food lines (preserves, chutneys, relishes, cheeses etc.) prepared from farm produce
  • Fish markets
  • Flea markets or swap meets, a type of bazaar that rents space to people who want to sell or barter merchandise. Used goods, low quality items, and high quality items at low prices are commonplace
  • Flower markets, such as the Mercado Jamaica in Mexico City and the Bloemenmarkt in Amsterdam
  • Food halls, featuring gourmet food to consume on- and off-premises, such as those at Harrods (London) and Galeries Lafayette (Paris) department stores. In North America, these may be also referred to simply as “markets” (or “mercados” in Spanish), such as the West Side Market in Cleveland, Ponce City Market in Atlanta, and the Mercado Roma in Mexico City.
  • Grey market: where second hand or recycled goods are sold (sometimes termed a green market)
  • Handicraft markets
  • Markets selling items used in the occult (for magic, by witches, etc.)
  • Supermarkets and hypermarkets

United States

In the United States, the term public market is often used for a place where vendors or merchants meet at the same location on a regular basis. A public market has a sponsoring entity that has legal and financial responsibility to oversee operations and, sometimes, provides facilities to house the market activity. Public markets may incorporate the traditional market activity – the sale of fresh food from open stalls – and may also offer a wide range of different products. Public markets may incorporate elements of specialized markets such as farmers markets, craft markets, and antique markets. Traditionally public markets in the US were owned and operated by city governments, but this is no longer the case.

According to the Ford Foundation, what distinguishes public markets from other types of related retail activity are three characteristics. Public markets:

  1. have public goals, a defined civic purpose. Typically, these goals include: attracting shoppers to a central business district, providing affordable retailing opportunities to small businesses, preserving farming in the region, and activating or repurposing public space
  2. are located in and/or create a public space in the community, where a wide range of people mix, and are, or aim to be, a heart of the community
  3. are made up of locally owned, independent businesses operated by their owners, not franchises. This gives public markets a local flavor and unique experience.

List of public markets

  • Alemany Farmers’ Market – San Francisco, California
  • Boston Public Market – Boston, Massachusetts
  • Broad Street Market – Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
  • Brooklyn Flea – Brooklyn, New York
  • Chattanooga Market (2001–present) – Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Chicago farmers’ markets Chicago, Illinois
  • City Market (Charleston, South Carolina)
  • City Market (Petersburg, Virginia) – Petersburg, Virginia. Built in 1878–79 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places
  • Crescent City Farmers Market – New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Cross Street Market – Baltimore, Maryland
  • Dallas Farmers Market – Dallas, Texas
  • Dane County Farmers’ Market – Madison, Wisconsin
  • Dayton Arcade – Dayton, Ohio
  • Eastern Market – Detroit, Michigan
  • Eastern Market – Washington, D.C.
  • Ferry Plaza Farmers Market & Ferry Building Marketplace – San Francisco, California
  • Findlay Market (1855–present)– Cincinnati, Ohio
  • French Market – New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Fulton Fish Market New York, New York
  • Grand Central Market – Los Angeles, California
  • Grand Central Market – New York, New York
  • Haymarket – Boston, Massachusetts
  • Hollins Market – Baltimore, Maryland
  • Indiana – farmers’ markets, Indiana
  • Italian Market, Philadelphia – Philadelphia, PA
  • James Beard Public Market (future) – Portland, Oregon
  • La Marqueta – New York, New York
  • Lancaster Central Market – Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  • Lexington Market (1782–present) – Baltimore, Maryland
  • Los Angeles Farmers Market – Los Angeles, California
  • Maxwell Street Market – Chicago, Illinois
  • Midtown Global Market – Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Milwaukee Public Market (2005–present) – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • North Market – Columbus, Ohio
  • Olvera Street – Los Angeles, California
  • Pike Place Market (1907–present) – Seattle, Washington
  • Ponce City Market – Atlanta, Georgia
  • Portland Public Market (1933–1942) – Portland, Oregon
  • Portland Saturday Market (1974–present) – Portland, Oregon
  • Reading Terminal Market (1893–present) – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • PNC Second Street Market – Dayton, Ohio
  • Soulard Market – St. Louis, Missouri
  • Sweet Auburn Curb Market (1918–present) – Atlanta, Georgia
  • Union Market – Washington, D.C.
  • Union Square Greenmarket – New York, New York
  • West Side Market – Cleveland, Ohio

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