In the early days of St. Louis, when it was still a growing Western town, most of the fruit and vegetables consumed here came to the city on the Mississippi river. In order to be near the source of supply, wholesale merchants set up their businesses near the river, and the first St. Louis produce market grew up at Wharf Street on the bank of the Mississippi.
As river traffic grew the vegetable dealers moved about a block from the old area. The move was believed to have taken place about 1874, when the Eads Bridge was completed. The industry expanded and the Market spread until it covered a 36 acre area where for 75 years it continued to operate. Old Commission Row is now made up of shabby old buildings, most of them pre-dating the Civil War.
In 1947 it became obvious the Market would have to move due to the development of the Third street Inter-Regional Highway and the East St. Louis Bridge. This development would wipe out a large part of the existing Market. The Department of Agriculture conducted a survey and made recommendations concerning the construction of a new Market. Four sites were suggested for the new Market, from which the present one at North Market and Second was chosen.
The project was financed by the St. Louis Fruit and Produce Association, made up of some of the produce merchants. In August, 1950, work had begun by the Robinson Construction Company. The new site will be free of traffic congestion and will eliminate losses from spoilage and will be open from 13 to 18 hours a day. The Market was also home to three types of restaurants, a cafeteria, Truckers’ Lounge and the third is equipped with a cocktail lounge. The Market also housed a Super service station which had lounges and showers for the truck drivers. The entire area was fenced, and watchman protection was provided. From the rear of the Produce Market, fruits and vegetables were unloaded from freight cars directly to the dealers.
The government survey shows that Produce Row is a $100,000,000 business. It employs 1200 people, requires 350 trucks, while 1500 buyers a day come to the Market from the North by Iowa, on the West by Jefferson City and Columbia, on the South by Cape Girardeau and the East by Indianapolis, Indiana.