Detroit, MI

Explore the History and Wonder of Detroit's Eastern Market

Rene Cizio

Eastern Market sits unassumingly just outside of Downtown Detroit in what has become its own district. If you pass it by on a weekday, you may not even notice the sheds lining the road, but on certain days this nationally recognized icon comes to life.

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When I'm in Detroit, I don't miss an opportunity to spend a morning at the market, wandering the stalls, taking in the scents of various food vendors, sampling the produce and watching the buskers perform for change. It's a trip back in time and the best way to get a feel for the city and the people in it in one fell swoop.

Since its beginning a selling place for produce, meat, spices and other products in the 1800s, Eastern Market has become a Detroit cornerstone now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Near Gratiot and Randolph Streets, the six+ block Eastern Market is much more than a farmer’s market. It's a culture of its own.

Today’s 250+ independent vendors and merchants sell everything from potatoes and goats to artisan honey and Christmas trees. Depending on the day of the week, shed after shed is filled with open-air stalls of handcrafted clothing and jewelry, coney dogs, shoe repair, and designer chocolate.

But the market is much more than goods and services. Through the years, a community of businesses and events have sprung up in and around it. There are mural and food festivals, jazz music, BBQ parties, Segway tours, and much more.

Each week more than 50,000 people flock to the market and surrounding businesses to partake in a pastime as old as the country itself.

Historical

Saying the market is historical is more than words. The district was named a Michigan State Historic Site in 1974 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Covering over 43 acres, Eastern Market is the largest historic public market district in the United States. It’s also the largest open-air flowerbed market in the United States.

Eastern Market Neighborhood

When people say "Eastern Market," they may not be talking about the actual market. The neighborhood around the market is a destination itself. The blocks surrounding the sheds have become vibrant and filled with businesses and public art. Indeed, it’s the up-and-coming place to be with many trendy restaurants and small businesses buying up the once delipidated storefronts.

Near the market, you can find Detroit’s best New York Style pizza at Supino Pizzeria (my absolute favorite - must. try!), get a famous bloody Mary at Vivios – a classic dive bar and restaurant, or a fine Italian meal at Roma Café. If you need a drink later in the day, there’s also Eastern Market Brewing and the Detroit City Distillery. Retails shops include Detroit Mercantile Company, Henry the Hatter, and Germack who sells fresh-roasted nuts to die for.

Murals in the Market

It’s hard to pick, but one of my favorite things about Eastern Market is the murals.

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In the 70s, farmers decorated their stalls with painted signs of produce and livestock to advertise what they sold. Some were pretty creative and over the years, they became iconic. Now, painting murals on the walls of buildings in the market is an honor.

Murals in the Market started in 2015 as an art festival bringing local artists to contribute to adorning the walls of the district. Today, over 150+ murals in the market range from social, political, florals, geometric, and other themes and styles.

Now, just walking or biking through the district is like going to an art museum – if it were a cool outdoor urban adventure with the best food and drinks in the Midwest.

Read: 15 Pictures of Detroit to Make Your Instagram Awesome

Events

More recently, market partners redesigned Shed 5 into a commercial kitchen and event space that hosts classes, festivals and private events of all types.

The space hosts beer festivals, wine tastings, harvest galas, burger battles and taco cook-offs, to name just a few. There are also tailgate parties, flea markets, book fairs, nighttime happy hours, and – my favorite – food truck rallies. (Shout out to Mac Shack)

Flower Day

When you say “flower day,” Detroiters know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s a Detroit tradition that one day in May – the Sunday after Mother’s Day – the market hosts the flower growers. On flower day, vendors sell 15 acres of plants and flowers at wholesale prices to thousands upon thousands of happy market-goers.

Eastern Market is also a Nonprofit

It used to be run by the city, but it’s now a public/private partnership. As such, they do a lot of community work. Primarily, they operate programs to help increase access to fresh, healthy food in and around Detroit. They’ve also invested in the market's infrastructure, restoring and preserving the sheds and the neighborhood.

Community Farm Stands

In recent years market representatives have branched out and begun running dozens of mobile pop-up farm stands in and around Detroit to provide fresh produce and other products to those in populated business areas or who otherwise may not be able to make it to the market. Find out where they're hosted here.

Ways to Pay

It’s not just for cash-carrying shoppers anymore. In an attempt to help underprivileged community members obtain fresh produce, the market now takes Bridge payments. Shoppers can head to the office in Shed 5 to receive tokens in exchange for Bridge payment. Many vendors accept the tokens. As a bonus, the market even doubles the value up to $20.

Know Before You Go

There are several free lots in and around the market. If you’re mobile, parking far away isn’t a hardship. You’ll walk past a lot of food stands, street vendors and murals on your way toward the sheds.

Hours:

  • Saturday 6 am-4 pm (year-round), hundreds of farmers and prepared-food vendors
  • Tuesday 9 am-3 pm (June-Sept.) Smaller market with fewer vendors, but added educational, wellness and culinary events
  • Sunday 10 am-4 pm (June-Sept.) Focus is on home goods, art, jewelry, vintage clothing, antiques, and furniture

Businesses and restaurants around Eastern Market are open after shed hours. 

Who's your favorite vendor at the market?

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Digital nomad, solo traveling full time. I write about travel, adventure, universal energy, and the journey through life. Pictures on Instagram @renecizio

Chicago, IL
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