by Sarah Wu
Photograph courtesy of Ece Yavuz
On any given Saturday, one can expect both Boston’s Haymarket and the Boston Public Market (BPM) to be packed. However, around 10 a.m., the crowd at Haymarket has significantly dwindled, while customers are slowly trickling into the Boston Public Market. These two famous Boston food locales are loved by Bostonians and visitors.
Located just a short walk from its namesake T stop, Haymarket has existed for almost 200 years. It is an open market where people roam from booth to booth in the street.
Katie DiClemente (COM ’19) said, “Haymarket is great because it has affordable, quality produce and it is close to other historic places like Faneuil Hall and the North End.”
Seafood and fresh produce are the focuses of Haymarket. While there are tourists who make a point to visit the market, they stick out like a sore thumb—unaware of the crowds of people which would be easily avoided and weaved through by locals.
Signs with “wait onion,” “broccoli,” “pineapple” and “watermelon” are scrawled on ripped pieces of cardboard. On signs which state “organic onion,” “organic” is written in quotes, with the Os made into smiley faces. In the background, one might hear anything from bachata music to Frank Sinatra. While music and language make the division between booths obvious, the clientele is also divided—tourists trying to understand the difference between a plantain and banana and locals who only purchase goods from one or two of their favorite vendors.
Haymarket is exclusively “cash only.” If a browser shows even a little interest, vendors will toss the customer plastic bags, waiting for them to take produce and throw back dollar bills. Not much “sampling” is taking place—it is more of a grab-and-go environment. Negotiation is key.
One particular shop often draws a small crowd—three crabs for $5. People purchase live crabs, then one of the shop employees will pick up the crabs with tongs and throw them into a small plastic bag.
Just down the block, instead of tongs reaching into baskets of crabs, vendors are reaching into display cases at Q’s Nuts, searching for perfectly roasted pecans for a customer to sample. At the BPM, sampling is standard—“try it before you buy it,” as vendors often say. It is not uncommon for customers to try several different types of a product before buying it, whether they are squeezing it for firmness or tasting small samples of various products.
At the Boston Public Market, it seems that the mentality is living to eat, rather than eating to live. This is the underlying food and social code of the BPM. The prices are more expensive, but many feel the quality is higher and worth paying for.
The BPM “expands on the farmers’ market by making it accessible to everybody all the time,” said Cheryl Cronin, the Boston Public Market’s CEO.
The Boston Public Market also focuses on an educational aspect; customers make the first move in approaching the booth, then conversations with the vendor are started—where the vendor is from and how fresh the ingredients are.
Prices are non-negotiable, booths feature typed signs, which are nicely laminated and sitting in their respective cases. The interior is neat, and seems to mimic an outdoor environment, without having to deal with Boston’s unpredictable weather. Bright lights and colorful signs printed with logos and slogans hang from the ceiling. Soft music, all in English, plays in the background—just loud enough to hear and hum along to.
Local and fresh are buzzwords here. Next to the main entrance is a welcome sign, written in white chalk. However, “seasonal, local food” and “common culture” are written in green.
Hopster Alley is the appropriately named hallway filled with hundreds of local beers, from Downeast Cider to Night Shift. As one re-enters the main market from Hopster Alley, there is a sign which says, “No consumption within market,” with the same message written beneath it in German, Spanish, French, Japanese and Chinese.
While there are more minority consumers at Haymarket, the Boston Public Market is definitely more “uniform” in terms of its customers, the majority of whom are younger families and young adults.
Haymarket’s flow of traffic is a push-and-shove and “stay out of my way” environment, while the clients at the Boston Public Market fall effortlessly into lines in front of counters.
While these two locations vary significantly when it comes to products, language, food rules and traffic patterns, it is clear that each has established its own niche within the community. They are able to co-exist next to each other, despite drawing different crowds and attracting various cultures.