As soon as we reached the Custom House on East Bay Street, we could see the City Market on our left. I have a tendency to think of this side of the Market as the front, because it’s closest to the waterfront, and my friends and I always go in this way. But technically, the front entrance is on Meeting Street, where the Market Hall building is located.
The City Market stretches for four blocks, from Meeting Street to East Bay Street, and has occupied this location since the 1790’s. In two hundred years, the Market has been restored several times and damaged by fires, hurricanes, and even earthquakes. Originally, it was a meeting place for the locals, as well as a meat and produce market. In recent history, it’s where tourists go to buy handmade sweetgrass baskets, paintings and photographs of Charleston scenery, Charleston tea, and all sorts of souvenirs and crafts.
I have been to the Market so many times that I’ve lost count, but I still never get tired of visiting it. So, I was thrilled to take my mom through there, for the first time. It’s a bit like a craft fair, with the variety of items for sale. You drool over the stands with snacks, wish you could decide what Charleston t-shirt to take home, the girls try on the jewelry (and take home spoon rings, more often than not), and admire the beauty of the sweetgrass baskets. This time, the only thing I bought at the market was some cinnamon roasted cashews. So yummy.
When I first began visiting the Market, back in 1999 (or somewhere around there), the market section attached to Market Hall was divided into separate shops, with a long winding hallway running down the middle. You could easily bypass any shop that didn’t look interesting, because you didn’t have to go inside. Not anymore. The new renovations have changed all that, and not only with the clean white paint and black fans and lighting fixtures.
The new renovations took that old section, shut it in with glass doors on both ends (which allows for air-conditioning), and added two cafes on one side. I have never eaten at either Food for the Southern Soul or Caviar & Bananas, but I’m sure that I will, someday. Once you pass the food, there’s a long, hallway running down between actual shops, except none of them are enclosed. Short walls on the sides of them show where one shop ends and another begins, and that’s about it. One minute, you’re looking at bags of dried okra (and wondering WHY someone would eat that), and the next, you’re in a baby clothing store.
And always, there’s the hat shop. This one was where we always lost the guys in our group, and that hasn’t changed in recent years. If you check out my post from my last Seabrook weekend (“a weekend away…”), you’ll find a closeup of one of the hats a friend bought. Also, the group picture in front of the pineapple fountain has another one. They’re very classy looking hats, the ones my friends bought.
This hat shop carries everything from Stetsons to fedoras to the Dickensian styles (even a few top hats). It’s mostly hats for the guys, though they’ve expanded to carry a few more of the fancy ones for the ladies. Ten years ago, we were visiting that shop, and my guy friends were coming out with all sorts of headgear. Such good fun.
Market Hall used to house a Confederate Museum, but I believe that ended many years ago, because of damage caused by Hurricane Hugo. I know that my friends and I have had several photo ops in front of it, over the years, but we’ve never been inside the upper level. I suppose people ARE allowed in there? I have no idea.
When you’re done visiting the Market itself, both sides of it are lined with shops and places to eat on North and South Market Street. These include several restaurants, another hat shop, Black Market Minerals (the awesomest shop full of rocks!), and numerous souvenir shops. Also, Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs will fulfill your cravings for ice cream, while merely walking by Kilwin’s Chocolates will make you gain weight… just from breathing in the smell of chocolate.
Rather than stop at fancier (or more expensive place), my mom and I stopped for lunch at A.W. Shucks. You’ve probably seen the t-shirts (“Big Mussels, Great Legs, & Fantastic Tails”), owned by every college student that’s been anywhere on spring break. We didn’t go there for the clothing, we just went there for the food, and enjoyed it immensely. My brother thinks we could’ve gone somewhere better than a restaurant chain, but if they have good food and you’re with good company, what more could you ask for?
While Mom tried the hush puppies (which came with cinnamon butter), I enjoyed the she-crab soup. Charleston is the only place I ever get she-crab soup. I have some hilarious memories (from years ago) of “serious” discussions about what happened to the he-crabs, after the she-crabs are taken away to be made into dinner. And why are the lady crabs tastier than the man crabs? We had a waiter explain it to us, once. : )
I decided to be brave and try the fish tacos, because a friend once made them for me, and I really liked them. Maybe you’re thinking, why wouldn’t you? Well, they’re usually served with lime salsa, which is full of onions and tomatoes, and I do NOT like raw onions or tomatoes. But I ate those fish tacos up, the first time, and asked for more. So, I did the same, this time, too. Funny how that works. Maybe certain flavors make them tolerable, because I won’t eat them on salads or just about anything else.