I have fond memories of the original Maxwell Street market. For those way too young to know, the market was held on vacant land between Maxwell and 16th Street on Halsted and blocks west.
The market derived from the Jewish owned businesses, pushcarts, and peddlers who settled in the area at the turn of the last century. During the Great Migration, African Americans, especially from the Mississippi Delta, replaced Jewish people.
Chicago Blues originated in the Maxwell Market.
Eventually urban renewal took most of the buildings, but the market held on. Rain or shine.
Hispanics became the dominant vendors before the market’s demise and rebirth a few blocks away.
It was a literal bazaar, where everything and anything was on sale. You walked through the aisles of tables while rats scurried around. People who could not afford to rent a table wandered around selling various merchandise they could carry.
On every corner there were people selling bundles of socks, peanuts, or other items.
The odor of grilled onions wafted over the whole area from Jim's Maxwell Street Polish, on the corner of Maxwell and Halsted. Jim's was the last stop after a night of carousing. You grabbed your Polish or pork chop sandwich and ate it al fresco. You did not eat in your car. The smell of onions would last for days. About the time you finished eating the market opened. If you were somewhat sober, you browsed or shopped.
The Maxwell Street Market was also the place to recover stolen merchandise, especially tools, if you were a victimized tradesman. It was not unusual for scuffles to break out when people discovered their stolen property for sale.
Parts for just about anything, no matter how old, could be found there. A to Z, soup to nuts, everything and anything was for sale. Haggling was the rule.
Gentrification took the old market. The New Maxwell Street Market opened on Sundays, first on Canal Street, then at DesPlaines and Polk. (Sundays 7am-3pm) It is not as lively or entertaining as the original. You can still find bargains, especially on produce, which is way less expensive than farmer's markets or grocery stores.
After all these years, it was finally time to visit.
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