a tiny photo gallery of Haymarket, Boston, in April
The first sight of the tents lined up on both sides of the wider street outside the Haymarket T stop reminded me of the busy trading scenes of Mongkok or Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, where cheap commodities are displayed and traded. Hay Market and those in Hong Kong are both touristy spots with specific temporary vending time with stands and tents in the open air. The vendors usually put up their tents around noon.
Turning right at the end of the open street, we were able to see longer alleys where small stands were shaded in tents and vendors were shouting to draw attention. These small fruit and veggie stands seemed to be more popular than the the ones right outside the station, because the crowdedness created a sense of friendliness among sellers and customers and made the products more accessible. Most vendors appeared to be of non-white ethnic backgrounds, a lot of whom spoke Spanish. Customers and visitors seemed to feel welcomed by the overflowing yelling of hospitality from most vendors.
Cardboard signs with big characters of low prices indicate visitors of the bargains going on and gathered the crowd together. One vendor doodled a rainbow and a pair of eyes to attract attention to his multi-color baby potatoes. I saw signs of 2 for $1.5 and 1 for $1 for strawberries. There are also signs which say $1 for 3 big lemons or $1 for 8 regular sized lemons. The prices are less than half of those in franchise grocery shops in the city. There are several reasons why the prices vary so much. First of all, because the goods go through some degree of selected process, the charges are higher in the small town, especially with the organic food branding. Second, the shipping and handling cost is included in the food prices. It does not take much effort, labor, or maintenance for Haymarket vendors to shelve their goods. They have their trucks right behind the tents, and often times do not have to take fruit or vegetables out of the boxes. In comparison, goods are carried in great distance from wholesale markets into residential areas scattered around the city. Here the demand depends a lot on supply, and stores have a greater control on prices. Third, Haymarket involves little maintenance fee and labor. In well-branded whole food stores and farmers markets, a great variety of products are arranged and stored in different sections including in temperature-controlled settings, and there are always more shop assistants than customers. Whereas in Haymarket, vendors usually appear in groups of partners, friends, and families, and seem to chill out with little vigilance. Their goods sell fast at low prices with people come and go easily.
The goods sold there were of degraded quality, but for customers from around the city (or me from a town where local produce is twice as expensive or more) with carts ready to store some groceries for a whole week before them, it is the ideal place to carry home a good array of affordable products. Unfortunately, my friend and I did not plan to take full advantage of the good deals, and ended up carrying home four plastic bags of fruit, a third of which (mostly juicy berries) we had to eat on the T!
Trucks lined up right behind the tents, where products were offloaded and put on display, arranged in different colors. Similarly, hustling scenes were seen in the largest Fruit Wholesale Market of my city behind my apartment at home, where vendors have warehouses inside the gate of the marketplace. Outside the designated area on the street were retail stands, which were substituted by the same shopfronts a year ago under the city appearance maintenance project. The fruit market is regulated by a loudspeaker that broadcast market rules and parking violations, in contrast to the autonomy at Haymarket. Nevertheless vendors are granted a lot of autonomy but they performed in good order, at least during our visit!
There was only one stand in the hustling section managed by two guys who did not yell but rather stood and waited for people to approach them. So they did not show as much passion in selling the produces, and therefore their place was hardly visited.
The halal food shop down the stairs is itself a visual attraction! Rarely do meat shops I have seen in the US have meat displayed in open air in large chunks. And the halal food shop is one of them. The beautiful fish stand reminded me of home where fish is often sold alive, fresh, or as a whole. Freshness counts a lot toward the quality of meat, and it can be identified by looking or touching the fish or meat. Low price too! But my friend told me the mutton he bought there was not fresh enough and ruined his soup. One reason the low-price meat, although freshness varies, is still popular with people could be culturally stated. Because Americans prefer to cook meat in pans or oven in a larger amount of seasoning, the freshness does not matter so much for those who prioritized flavor over the materials’ raw or original taste.
On Saturday afternoon around 6:30, vendors started to put away their tents and pack their goods unto trucks and leave. It is interesting to see how this physical market comes together to its busy trading scenes in the two days every week and comes apart on Saturday night. It runs on the time of leisure every weekend with cheap setting and makeshift props. It is also a fun place to visit with convenient transportation and colorful scenes. It brings a community together who have certain needs, but not too much, for grocery. One reason why the physical involvement in grocery shopping still exists in the digital age is exactly the important process to select goods in person and better one’s appetite and quality of life, and it needs to be engaging and cheap, as shown here at Haymarket.