Monday, April 20, 2009

Detroit's Eastern Market

The Detroit Farmer's Market began in downtown Detroit, east of Woodward Ave., in 1841. When it moved to its present location in 1891, it was re-named Eastern Market. Today, in 2009, the historic farmers market and shopping center is 168 years old.

From the days of the horse-drawn carts to present day trucks, farmers have annually hauled thousands of tons of fresh produce to Detroit's Eastern Market area for re-sale to wholesalers, retailers and the general public. The figure is estimated to be over 70,000 tons a year.

On any given Saturday, some 45,000 Detroiters, suburbanites, and out-of-staters can be found shopping elbow to elbow at farmer's stalls or area retail shops for products from Michigan and as near as Ohio and Canadian farms, to as far as the European, Middle East, Asian, and South American farming areas.

Eastern Market is not only known for its luscious, colorful farm fresh fruits and vegetables, but also for the meat products (beef, pork, lamb, poultry, geese, ducks and rabbits.) Also, for the herbs and spices, nuts, candies and a variety of condiments supplied by retailers and wholesalers. A variety of fresh fish and seafood is also available.

The Annual Flower Days held at Eastern Market each year (this year, May 17, 2009), offers bedding plants, flowers, shrubs, evergreens, etc. It is recognized as the world's largest bedding flower market.

Eastern Market is also a people watcher's delight. A melting pot of rich, poor, young and old browse and actually bargain old-world style for what suits their interests, absorbing the sights, sounds, color and excitement of the Eastern Market area. Many people make an entire day out of shopping here, arriving before 7 a.m., having breakfast at one of the area's restaurants, then spending the morning shopping!

Built on the site of an early hay and wood market, Eastern Market area was one of three markets founded in the l850's. The farmers market portion moved to the present Eastern Market area site in 1891 from the old Cadillac Square area.

Although an open-air farmer's market existed prior to the Civil War, the first sales shed was built in l89l in the Vernor, Russell, Gratiot area, amid several other food establishments which had already located in the area. As the market area prospered, additional sheds were constructed in 1922 and 1929. Through the post-Depression era, the Eastern Market area grew, expanding in size and logging record truck-loads of farm products and other items as well. Following World War II, pre-packaged foods and the beginnings of the modern supermarket, shopping was altered for Detroiters and the way they shopped for food. So did Eastern Market, as more wholesalers and processors located in the area. Eastern Market developed into an important hub for the southeastern Michigan food distribution industry. Plans are to make it bigger, better and more efficient for the future.

Eastern Market was declared an historic area in 1977 by the State of Michigan Historical Commission. Many of the original buildings are still in operation today.

One of the many colorful murals painted on buildings throughout the market

Although a staple in the Fall, this vendor provides Michigan made apple cider, fresh donuts and homemade jams & jellies all year round at Eastern Market. They are also famous for their "Mountain Dew" jelly. One of these days I'm going to try it!

You can also get some of the freshest eggs of all kinds here. Every once in a while, vendors will also bring live chickens for sale here!

Grapefruits, Cabbages and Pineapple!

Cauliflower and string beans!

A wide variety of potatoes as well!

Fresh broccoli, squash and zucchini's! I'm thinking amazing stir-fry!

Of course my visit this past weekend was very early in the season, so this was just a sampling of the hundreds of items available in the market.

A local bakery sells a wide variety of "healthy" breads as well.

This small corner shop was home to Rafal Spice Company. A family run business in Eastern Market for well over 48 years. Spices, herbs, coffees, teas and other unique ingredients from around the world lined the walls and shelves of this tiny shop. Just walking towards the store you could smell the aroma of fresh spices. One could get just about any spice or herb known to man here.
Martha Stewart even purchased spices here and has listed Rafal Spice Company in the "Sources" section of many of her cookbooks. In return, Rafal Spice Company ran many ads in the "MarketPlace" section of "Martha Stewart Living" magazine.
Unfortunately, due to Detroit's failing economy, Rafal Spice Company closed it's doors in December, 2008. Anticipating re-opening in March of 2009, the store was still closed during my recent visit in April.

Another favorite store of mine, is R. Hirt jr. Co. This specialty goods store founded in 1887 by Rudolph Hirt jr. makes you feel like you walked into a time machine and came out a century earlier in the middle of a bustling general store. The immediate smell that engulfs you is the smell of over 300 varieties of cheeses they offer!

On Saturdays, a line starts at the front of the counter and continues to find its way right out the front door. With the quality products that R. Hirt jr. sells, the line is understandable. Not only is cheese aplenty, but other products sold are meats, freshly baked loaves of bread, tea, chocolates, sauces, oils, pastas and pickles.

These crates contain a wide assortment of only REAL maple syrup.

These shelves are lined with hundreds of different olive oils and vinegars from around the globe! The top of the shelves offer many glass vessels to store such items as well as unique glass beverage dispensers.

The photo above is a display of the many "Michigan Made" items available at the store.

If you wander towards the back of the store, you'll come to a creaky old wooden staircase. Venture up to the top floor to take in the stores extensive collection of wicker baskets, other wicker related items and hand-made crafts.

Just outside the store they offer a wide variety of garden items such as terra-cotta and painted gardening pots and other garden decor such as these whimsical garden ornaments.

The market also boasts a few nice antique dealers as well. Since most of the shops are small, on warm sunny days such as this was, the shops will display merchandise outside in front of the shops.

This hilarious banner, at another shop that sells garden decor, was advertising "Glass Gazing Balls". I assure you, the sign does get your attention!

They also offered these gigantic flower pots! I would love to have a couple of these out front, but they wouldn't even fit in my Jeep!

After exploring Detroit's Eastern Market you're most likely going to be hungry. If you love good BBQ, check out Bert's MarketPlace for their Saturday outdoor BBQ! Huge lines form to enjoy delicious ribs, burgers, chicken, etc.

Enjoy your food on Bert's large outdoor patio. Often times, there is a DJ playing music, as well as karaoke.

Other great dining options in Eastern Market are:

Vivio's - Home of their famous Bloody Mary's

Roma Cafe Italian Restaurant - Detroit's oldest family run restaurant (119 years old)

Butcher's Inn

Louie's Ham & Corned Beef - 3570 Riopelle Street, Detroit MI 48218

For more information on what's going on in the market, including the many special events being held there weekly, check out their website: Detroit's Eastern Market


  1. Man, I miss the Market. We have a tiny replica - Findlay Market. But it's such a shell of the real thing (or what I deem "the real thing"), it's depressing to visit.

    I can't wait to be back in Michigan!

  2. It looks like a wonderful place to visit. I hope I make it to Detroit one of these days and if I do this place will be at the top of the list. Thanks for the bit of history.

    I do hope the spice shop reopens soon.

  3. You're right, John... Eastern Market is a great place to play and shop! I haven't been there in a while.. perhaps we'll have to do a Saturday sometime!

  4. Elaine - It's a great place to spend a Saturday!

  5. Kenn - I'll be there on May 2 at 9 am to see Iron Chef Michael Symon and owner of Detroit's new restaurant "Roast". He'll be doing a cooking demo that morning!

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