A Visit to the SoWa Vintage Market

by Riley Lane

photography courtesy of the SoWa Boston Instagram

Open every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the SoWa vintage market is a vibrant trip full of exciting shopping surprises. Located in Boston’s South End, the market hosts vendors selling everything from fashion and jewelry to furniture and fine art. Operating in the basement of 480 Harrison Ave in the SoWa Artists Center, the market shows rain or shine every weekend, with a wide variety of visitors.

The ‘SoWa’—originally derived from “South of Washington”—art and design district grew out of neglected warehouses in the South End, quickly blossoming into a vibrant retail and arts community. The SoWa market district circulates yearly with the Vintage Market year-round, the Open Market—open from May to October—and the Winter Market Festival, hosted over two weekends every December. The Winter Market Festival showcases a number of foods, crafts and cocktail vendors in a large, cozy-themed warehouse.

“The market really was worth the wait,” said Laurren Henning (COM ’22) on her visit last December, “it was awesome seeing lots of unique pieces made by independent artists.”

The Open Market celebrates Boston’s local food, music and art, hosting over 175 vendors every weekend throughout the course of its season. It brings together food trucks, a farmer’s market, an arts market and the SoWa beer garden for a family and pet-friendly outing. The SoWa beer garden hosts numerous local craft beer vendors, as well as many lawn games and live local music acts. The SoWa artist space additionally hosts artist studios that open on weekends year-round for the artists in residence to showcase their work for sale.

The Vintage Market consists of a wide variety of vintage clothing, furniture and assorted items. In one booth, original Nintendo Gameboy and Super Nintendo systems are for sale. In another, vintage jewelry is strewn around with original mountaineering equipment from the Berkshires. Another vendor exchanged used books for a small donation to the Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Program. The selection is diverse and plentiful, with each vendor having unique clothing and accessories.

John Warren and his partner Stephanie run the Vintage Market, while operating two vendor stations of their own. Starting about 10 years ago, they were given the opportunity to open the market after working and learning the ropes in the Brooklyn flea market circuit.

“I pretty much specialize in guy stuff: Carhartt jackets, old work boots, t-shirts,” Warren said about his own space. “I also build my own furniture.”

His partner Stephanie covers the ’80s and ’90s, focusing on vintage fashion and jewelry. The other booths follow these themes, but each with their own charm. “Everyone has their own take on what vintage is to them,” says Warren.

All of the vendors were happy to talk about their selections, with a palpable love for the vintage goods they’d found to sell, as well as detailed historical backgrounds for each item.

The basement is a cozy space, with every wall decorated and strewn with accessories and fabrics. Large vinyl collections can be found at most stations, primarily consisting of early ’50s to late ’70s folk rock and traditional pop. Vintage cameras and projectors are placed on top of high rise ’50s cabinets, which fetch a high price.

While not exactly cheap, the market offers a space for unique items not found commonly anywhere else. Clothing ranges from ten dollars for a T-Shirt to upwards of $180 for Americana woodsman jackets. Original ’50s milk maiden handkerchiefs go for $20 and jewelry stays in about the $30 and up range.

Whatever you might find, the vintage market serves as a great place for quality, one of a kind items. The SoWa market circuit is an amazing weekend outing for anyone looking for some interesting shopping, as well as the chance to meet its passionate local vendors.