The Two Sides of the Church Street Marketplace


Church Street Marketplace. Photo by: Logan Young.

Church Street Marketplace is the most popular shopping destination in the beautiful city of Burlington, Vermont. The marketplace is a district of restaurants and shops, located along a walking strip for many visitors to explore. Church Street can be described as a shopping lover’s paradise, bringing in roughly 1.5 million people a year including locals and tourists. Some shop for products for their wants and needs, while others just hang out and enjoy the aesthetics of the area. From beginning to end, people will find everything from clothing stores, books shops, antiques, and dine at local restaurants. These include: Lululemon, The Vermont Flannel Co, and Leunig’s Bistro, just to name a few.

In between the various stores, expect some street performances to be taking place for the amusement of visitors. For those visiting in summer, catching the annual Jazz Festival could enhance the Church Street experience. It was named one of the Great Public Spaces in America by the National Register of Historic Districts, for reasons including its historic buildings, thriving retail trade, carefully maintained streets, and strong community support. However, the marketplace still shows some imperfections. For being a fantastic place, a variety of problems exist. All of which leaves potential tourism on the doorstep.

Recently, crimes have been the common theme surrounding the identity of Church Street Marketplace, including public drunkenness, drug use, harassment, homelessness, and issues of assault. This can be seen during the daytime, but at night is where these true flaws shine brightest. The Church Street crime issue has been occurring for a while now. 

In September 2020, store merchants within the district asked lawmakers for help with the crime. Merchants communicated that the city government did all they could do to help, asking lawmakers for further reinforcement. Multiple assaults have taken place on the street, as recently as January of this year. An Urban Outfitters manager said, “A lack of police presence contributes to the ongoing problems.” 

According to an article from WCAX in late February, “65 officers are on the Burlington Police payroll.”

This is a historic low for the Burlington Police Department.

But how does all this affect the tourism of Church Street Marketplace?

Being the Vermonter that I am, I have had a close connection with Church Street Marketplace. A top shopping spot for my family, especially at a younger age. For a long time, it held a special place in my heart. But over the years, it has become a hot spot for crime and conflict. Leading to lost meaning. Hopefully, in the coming future, Church Street Marketplace can claim the absolute positive portrayal that its potential possesses. Benefiting businesses and residents exploring the street.

When looking through the lens of Church Street, the good outweighs the bad by a landslide. It’s what makes it a popular destination. What Church Street Marketplaces offers is undeniably unique, to which very few places in the United States can be compared. When observing the street, catching family and friends having a good time is in every direction. A couple from New Jersey who visit Vermont annually said; “The [Church] Street is gorgeous. Everyone is so friendly and the local restaurants are unbelievably good.” 

Whether be the local shoppers, tourists from other parts of the world, or students attending the nearby colleges, Church Street is still consistently populated with visitors. At the moment, Church Street Marketplace has a split personality. One side is the negative reputation of being crime-filled, but on the other side is the lovable place people hold in their hearts.