You may be able to get the cheapest cucumber in Boston at the Haymarket. Hidden behind the bulk of Boston's upside-down City Hall, and nestled near historic Fanueil Hall, which was deeded to the city with the stipulation that its bottom floor be forever a meat market, Haymarket vendors have peddled fruits and vegetables for nearly 300 years.
The market's open every Friday and Saturday, but Friday crowds are different from Saturday crowds. On Fridays, the Haymarket is an outdoor grocery store for middle-class Belmont housewives. Saturday is the day for everyone else. Prices are cheapter, shoppers are wilder, and haggling is the law.
Most of the pushcart men are immigrants, or sons of immigrants, from Italy, Sicily, or Greece. Their day begins at 4:30 AM, when by unwritten law each vendor takes the space whish is his, and ends by 9 or 10 at night, when the produce is packed away.
The Boston council agreed to construct a central market in the city in 1634, but the market was not opened until 100 years later. In 1738, the market building was destroyed, but a new building was constructed, and in 1740 the first Faneuil Hall stall was leased.
Outdoor markets are giving way all over the country to supermarkets and suburban shopping centers, and over the years the market men have moved from the old neighborhoods in the North End out to Somerville, and Cambridge. But Haymarket is still an intensely human place, where there is a fierce brotherhood among competitors, and a vendor will still toss a few old cherries at the back of an obnoxious customer.
Boston is a city which is famous for its tolerance of contrasts, its sense of history, and its ability to invest small pockets of space with rich meaning. As long as that character lasts, so will Haymarket.
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