- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 6, 2005

Before there were supermarkets, there were fantastic markets. Shoppers visited the butcher for meat, the flower lady for blooms and the baker for fresh bread and cookies. Shopping was a jumble of sounds, not to mention sights, smells and tastes.

Old-style shopping is still alive and well at Capitol Hill’s Eastern Market. Located at Seventh Street and North Carolina Avenue SE, Eastern Market is Washington’s only 19th-century market to have remained in continuous operation.

The market opened in 1805 at Fifth and L streets SE, a location closer to the Anacostia River to take advantage of goods coming to town via the river. The market has been at its current location since 1872. The high-ceilinged brick South Hall building was constructed during the city’s post-Civil War construction boom.

Progress took a toll on the market, though. Grocery stores and supermarkets took customers away starting in the 1920s. By the 1960s, however, a whole new generation had discovered old-style shopping.

Eastern Market’s renaissance is in full swing, particularly on weekends. The building is full of stalls selling fresh produce, meat, cheese and other specialty items. Most are family-owned shops that have grown up with the market’s modern era.

Nate Fine has been working at Eastern Market’s Sweet Shoppe Bakery for 40 years. The bakery, with its softball-size croissants, giant bear claws, buttery rugalach and other goodies, dominates one end of the narrow hall.

“I’d say doughnuts are our biggest seller,” Mr. Fine says.

Mike Day bought some cookies there on a recent Sunday morning outing to Eastern Market with his 7-year-old twin daughters, Lauren and Allison. The family often makes the trip downtown from Springfield, Mr. Day says.

“It’s a nice Sunday ritual,” he says. “It’s different than going to the Giant, where everything is packaged and sterile.”

The Day girls enjoy browsing the outdoor portion of the market, where craftspeople and flea-market vendors sell their wares on weekends. On any weekend, one can find African art, hand-stitched handbags, movie magazines from the 1950s and costume jewelry. Looking for funky furniture? A silk scarf? A rhinestone picture frame? Bongo drums? There is a good chance you can find them at Eastern Market.

Lenka Ruzicka has an outdoor table popular with families. She sells toys imported from France, Germany and the Czech Republic. Ms. Ruzicka offers traditional toys and wooden pull toys, along with tea sets and soft baby gifts. Children can test drive the wooden choo-choo train, the cheerful frog or whatever toy they might like.

“Business is good,” Ms. Ruzicka says. “I’ve been here almost a year. People love wooden blocks — the simpler the better. People are already starting to think about Christmas presents.”

When you go

Location: Eastern Market is located on Capitol Hill at Seventh Street and North Carolina Avenue SE in the District.

Directions: Eastern Market is seven blocks west of the Capitol and one block north of the Eastern Market stop on Metro’s Orange and Blue lines.

Hours: The South Hall is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Some stalls are closed on Mondays. The flea market and craft market are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and the farmers market is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Admission: Free.

Parking: Street parking in the area.

More information: 202/544-0083 or ttp://easternmarketdc.com.

Note:

Eastern Market is the only 19th-century market that has been in continuous operation in Washington. It is a good place for families to spend a weekend morning, browsing the crafts; sampling fresh cheese, fruit and baked goods; and seeing the process of production — whether it is an artist at work on a painting or a poultry vendor preparing a chicken.

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