By Rowan Walrath, managing editor
The South End Open Market @ SoWa will relocate next year after a feud between Chris Masci, owner and operator of New England Open Markets LLC, and Mario Nicosia, owner of the site where the current market is located.
The South End Open Market has been operating every Sunday from May to October for 12 years. Indie artists, designers and local farmers, and 25 to 30 food trucks each week fill the current site at 460 Harrison Ave. in the SoWa district of the South End.
Masci will temporarily relocate to a site near the Ink Block development at 300 Harrison Ave. according to the Boston Globe.
Nicosia, meanwhile, plans to launch a rival outdoor market. He currently has a vintage market, artist studios, retail shops and several restaurants as tenants in refurbished brick buildings on the property, according to the Globe.
“It’s interesting watching grown men act like [children],” Donna-Lee Woods of Hickory Nut Farm in New Hampshire, an Open Market vendor, said on Sunday. “I don’t know if this area can carry two markets, but it’s exciting watching it.”
According to court records, an average of 10,000 people attend the South End Open Market @ SoWa every week. In 2014, Masci’s open-air markets generated $361,000 in fees from vendors.
In 2013, Nicosia’s company, GTI Properties Inc., trademarked the “SoWa Open Market” name. According to the Globe, Masci had previously applied for the same trademark but allowed his application to lapse. In early 2015, Masci filed two lawsuits: one challenging the trademark and another accusing Nicosia of recruiting vendors to cut him out of the market.
Masci also started referring to his markets as “South End Open Markets,” according to the Globe. Nicosia responded with a notice of default, saying his lease required Masci to use the SoWa name. In April, the two decided that the lease would end this year, Masci would drop his lawsuits and his challenge to the SoWa Open Market trademark and the markets would be referred to as “South End Open Markets @ SoWa.” Nicosia agreed to have no communication with Masci’s vendors other than to coordinate parking and maintenance, and he lowered the rent Masci pays to use the property for this year’s market.
David Gilson, the marketing manager for the farms and specialty foods markets at SoWa for the past 25 years, expressed uncertainty about where the food markets will go.
“I’ll sit down with the [leaders] of both markets and figure out what’s best for my market and the neighboring ones,” Gilson said. “I want to have specific, concrete questions answered.”
In July, Nicosia filed a lawsuit alleging Masci was withholding GTI’s percentage of fees collected from vendors who did not sell on rainy days. That case is pending.
Masci has teamed up with National Development, which built the large Ink Block complex nearby, according to the Globe. National Development has arranged for South End Open Market @ SoWa to operate in a parking lot across Harrison Avenue next year. Masci and his markets will move in 2017 to a state parcel underneath the I-93 deck that National Development has leased and will turn into a parking lot with a small park.
Vendor Dan LiBoissonnault of Dan’s Power Plant was concerned as to whether shoppers would follow the markets to the underpass. He said people may not be willing to venture so far out.
Woods, on the other hand, insinuated that many vendors would move with Masci, regardless of the convenience of the new location.
“You have a certain allegiance, and you have to abide by that,” Woods said.
Photo by Scotty Schenck