The scene: A Tuesday at Eastern Market in Detroit. The characters: Three moms and six children. The motivation: Tasty treats and cheap thrills.
Let me start by saying I don’t recommend taking six children to Eastern Market. Well, let’s revise that. Don’t take my two. They’ll fight over who gets the last sip of Faygo. The boy will whine that there are no toy stores. And the girl will try to sample the candy at Rocky’s without paying. Strangers will tell you, “Boy, you have your hands full!” It’s just mortifying.
That said, you still should take your children to Eastern Market. Take your grandmother, your father, your second cousin twice removed. Convince some neighbors and school chums to join you. Because if the Saturday masses ever made you hesitate to indulge in all the sights, sounds and smells of this world-class marketplace, the lighter Tuesday crowds are a perfect introduction to the glories found here.
I say introduction because I had never tried Eastern Market on a Tuesday before. Like most noble suburban savages, I was aware of the seasonal market day where the sheds are set up on Tuesdays during the summer months. But the deal was sealed when I received an email from the Germack Coffee Roasting Co. last week, inviting folks to try its “Acoustic Tuesdays,” a musical sampling of local artists, drinks and snacks. While having the tots in tow prevented me from indulging in some fine public acts of dance and debauchery, I plan on coming back for that. (And what a blog post that will make.)
Back to my earlier statement, mentioning the three moms and six kids. Our first stop was at The Detroit Mercantile, a fab retailer that offers new and vintage finds from Detroit and a bunch of other good places. The products and displays were full of wonderful old stuff that grabbed everyone’s attention – typewriter-key bracelets, beaver-fur top hats from the 1800s, old-timey movie and music posters. The moms “oohed” and “aahed” over the t-shirts, Stormy Kromer hats and sweet notebooks (made from old book covers on the outside; a personal favorite). The kids fought over who got to listen to the music on the headphone setup – they were intrigued with what exactly this radio thing was.
The reason I note this part of the trip is how kid-friendly the store was. Yes, we patrolled their behavior as best as we could. But the very fine Robert Stanzler didn’t seemed fazed by their chaos at all. In fact, he even pulled the above-mentioned top hat off the shelf and let the Sticky Ones touch it to see how fine the craftsmanship was and how soft the fur could be. Maybe he didn’t pull a rabbit out of the hat, but he gave them something just as magical – a moment with a storeowner who actually looked into their eyes and educated them rather than scolded them. Really, it’s rare that someone who owns a shop this swell would not be freaked out by such a large crowd of dolts…I mean children…coming in.
Every stand and store at the Tuesday market was like this – a fantasy camp for kids. The spices were so heady that you just had to smell the basil close up, putting your button nose right up on them. And no one shooed them away. The cactus plants were spiny and sinister, so you had to put your hands up to touch the sharp spikes. Yet the owner just calmly looked on. Even the poor pickle guys seemed bemused by the staring, drooling children rather than irritated. We stopped here and there, trying some chips and guac from El Guapo. Everyone got a bag of candy (or three) from Rocky Peanut Co. Everyone brought something home either for dinner or to ruin dinner, depending on your point of view.
It is a carnival there: A place where life is to be savored and every sensation is satisfying. The music, mood and madness of it all…it was something to experience. So you had to touch, taste and be tempted by everything around you. Besides the food and wares, there was something more on display. There was a feeling of community here, of family and friends co-mingling. No one gave us a hard time. No one seemed to be bothered by such a rag-tag group. Rather, we fit right in.
As a side note, I’m also impressed with how high-tech the whole thing is. Besides the email invite, my veteran Eastern Market friend was thrilled to find the Mac Shack there, selling its gourmet macaroni-n-cheese on site, something she learned about from following the roving food stand on Facebook. We decided to visit the Mercantile after another friend via the same social-media site recommended the place after her visit. I even got a text from someone afterward, asking if they could tag along next time. Yes, indeed. There will be a next time.
Detroit’s Eastern Market is a gem. It is glorious. It is good. It is friendly and full of flavor. Just like the city that embraces it. And…Tuesday is right around the corner. You should go.