On Friday afternoon we walked a few blocks to Union Square Greenmarket. Established in 1976, Grow NYC/Greenmarket is a consortium of 52 producer markets, meaning that all goods sold are either grown or produced by the seller, no third party selling allowed. This is a traditional, bustling, outdoor market filling the park with people and selling everything from seasonal produce to fresh baked goods and beer. I’d give this one a 8/10. We didn’t have much time to look around so I saw only about half of the vendors and the ones I spoke with weren’t overly chatty. Items were clearly marked with the price. Definitely would be a great place to run through on the way to or from work and is open four days a week year around.
Saturday was an early start, touring six markets. First stop was UrbanSpace Vanderbilt, just a block from Grand Central Station. UrbanSpace is considered a food hall, everything sold is prepared food ready to eat. The vendors here rotate through on a regular basis, using the space as a springboard to bring a proven food concept to a larger audience in preparation for the next move, possibly into a storefront. Considering my definition of a market, I don’t think this one qualifies but it’s a fabulous concept for presenting a wide variety new food ideas. I went back the next day and bought a sushi burrito from Hai Street Kitchen; anxious for this to hit Cincinnati. I’m rating this one a 9/10. Great food, reasonably priced, nice atmosphere, and friendly vendors.
Next was the Chelsea Market which is located on the first floor of the old Nabisco factory where Oreos used to be made. The Food Network studios are upstairs. This is a high-end market and an excellent example of commercial gentrification. Developers created an upscale neighborhood, with befitting shopping available, in what used to be New York’s meat packing district. It’s adjacent to the High Line but there is no entry from one to the other, poor planning on both ends for that. It’s a beautiful building with lots of shopping options but has a mall-like feeling, not like a market at all. There’s a section with prepared foods, a grocery store, a bakery with the kitchen behind glass walls so you can watch everything being made, and the best seafood market I’ve ever seen. I had to take a picture of the 30-pound lobster and the extra jumbo fresh water prawns. There’s nothing wrong with Chelsea, it’s really great to see the transformation but it’s a sharp contrast to the Greenmarkets. I’d give this one a 4/10 for the overly-hip, too clean, pretend market feeling. I’m glad I got to visit but I wouldn’t seek it out on another trip.
It was a long trip through the city and across the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn and the Ft. Greene Park Greenmarket. It’s another of the Grow NYC Greenmarkets only on a much smaller scale. I don’t know if it was because I visited on a sunny day or if I like small markets, but fell in love with this one. The vendors were lined up along the sidewalk on the edge of the park and each stall was bursting with beautiful produce, baked goods, and flowers. The vendors were talkative and helpful, prices were clearly marked, and I wanted to take all of it home with me. I especially liked the mushroom vendor and the display of Hen-of-the-Woods. At the corner of the block the vendor tents continued down the intersecting street. Placed around the corner space were compost bins where residents can bring food scraps to be turned into lovely soil. I’m not sure if Greenmarkets sell the compost or if they use it in their gardening programs, but what a wonderful idea. This one was a favorite and rates a 10/10.
The walk to Brooklyn Flea was fun. The neighborhood is block after block of brownstone row houses and mature trees, it looks so much like what I think about when I think of New York. It was interesting to see all the signs advertising “Stoop Sales!!” City living certainly limits the yards and garages available for getting rid of unwanted stuff. The flea market is located in the parking lot of Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. Bring a cold drink and a fan because walking on the black asphalt in the sun is hot, hot, hot. This is the place to find used furniture, vintage clothing, and old record albums. There are quite a few stalls with handmade jewelry, scarves, and art but I thought it was leaning to the expensive side. Again, fun, but not a market to me. They did, however, have an amazing array of local food producers. This is one of New York’s largest markets and is open on Saturdays only. It’s obviously a community anchor with hundreds of people shopping and plenty of families sitting on the school steps and the curb of the sidewalk eating lunch. I give it a 4/10 because there was no shade, tables, or places to take a rest. It’s definitely a flea market but bargains are hard to find. Like Chelsea, I’m glad for the experience but wouldn’t make a return visit.
After a restful trip back to Manhattan in the lovely air-conditioned bus, we stopped at Essex Street Market. In the late 1930’s Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia banned the push cart markets because of unsanitary conditions. He built four indoor markets, one of them the Essex Street Market. Today, the market occupies only the center building of the original three that had been built. It’s open seven days a week and, to me, is an authentic market serving the neighborhood the way a market should. The current population in the neighborhood is primarily Asian and Latin American and Essex Street reflects that in their vendors and the items they sell. Over the years, they have adapted to the changing needs of their shoppers and that resilience has helped them keep the doors open for more than 70 years. There are plans to relocate Essex Market about a half block away to a mixed use development that is under construction. I’m sad for the move as surely, the market will lose the character of the crowded aisles and shelves, the curious twists and turns around the seller’s stalls, the old tile floor, and the spirit of tens of thousands of Lower East Side residents who have shopped there over the years.
I felt those spirits as I walked around and around this market, shoulders bumping, heavy baskets cradled in the crooks of elbows, and children tagging along hoping for a treat. I spoke with several of the vendors here and, for the most part, they are looking forward to the new location. There is more opportunity there, a chance for expansion and the
addition of more vendors. Most of all, the hope is that this move will bring in more shoppers to keep the market operating another 70 years. I still find it sad. This was my overall favorite, I’m going up to eleven on this one.
Turning left and walking three long blocks down Essex Street to Seward Park we found Hester Street Fair. Open only on
Saturdays it is a lovely art fair, small but has lots of vendors selling handmade goods. There was soap, honey, jewelry, wallets made out of comic book pages, and sunglasses. Meet the House of Correia. These young women have mad sales skills. I had been searching for days for just the right thing to take home to my daughters and I paused at their stall. They had handbags with dinosaurs closures and sunglasses decorated with repurposed costume jewelry. The next thing I knew, I had swiped my card to pay for four pair of the best sunglasses ever. The good news is, if my girls don’t like them, I have four new pair of sunnys. Check them out at vendor fairs around NYC and on Etsy.
I’d give Hester Street a 7/10 for great vendors, good vibe, and plenty of seating with shade. It’s a fun stop if you’re in the neighborhood but again, for me, doesn’t meet the definition of a community centered market. I’d love to shop there for gifts but not someplace I’d go every week.
I was able to get a bonus visit to Grand Central Market which is located closest to the Lexington Avenue entrance in between the Lexington and Graybar Passages in Grand Central Station. This market is open seven days a week and covers commuters coming home from work on weekdays, staying open until 9:00pm. It’s a small shop, just a single row with vendors on either side but offers a wide variety of fresh fish, meats, cheeses, baked goods, produce, spices, and sweets. I felt like I had come to a great playground with so many interesting things to touch and consider for purchase. Several vendors have some convenience food, too, ready to take home and finish. This is definitely a high-end market but feels more homey than Chelsea.
It is crowded and the vendors will pitch to shoppers for the sale. It made me feel very hip, moving from stall to stall trying to choose what to buy. I wondered if people could tell I was an out-of towner or if I blended in with the local New Yorkers? I hope I blended, that would be so much better. Grand Central scores an 10/10 for being visually gorgeous, colorful, friendly, having a wide variety of items, and convenience. It was pricey, but for anyone who can afford to live in Midtown Manhattan, not outrageous.
So many markets! Stay tuned for story about people I met and places I found, mostly when I was lost and wandering the streets around Midtown and the Lower East Side.