If Public Markets are ever created at Haymarket — in the multi-million dollar white elephant Big Dig ventilation building (Parcel 7) or in a future building on Parcel 9 — the big winner could be the Haymarket pushcarts.
That’s because the public markets might introduce countless new customers to the tremendous variety and values offered by the pushcarts. And they are no longer your grand-daddys’ pushcarts.
You may recall that not too many years ago the pushcarts were run by, let’s say, colorful local businessmen. The rule for years was: “Don’t touch.” The common admonition was, “Hey, Lady ! You wanna pick?? Go to Stop and Shop.” The owners would do the picking for you. Well, you generally got what you paid for. You hoped. It was chancy. The pushcarts were a hodge-podge of rickety stands, some under tents, some not, some built on boxes and shaky saw-horses, defying gravity. Old timers remember when they were real pushcarts.
And there might be some who remember the pushcart races, when police would set up a starting line and let the cart owners race to a sport in a ready-set-go early morning start.. The first and fastest ones got the prime locations. The race reduced discussions and debate.
All that has changed. There are 196 pushcarts — on Hanover, Blackstone and North streets. The operation is managed by the Haymarket Pushcart Association, consisting of some 50 owners. (Some own more than one stand.) The pushcarts now all have more or less similar stands, under similar tents. But it’s still attractive, colorful, something tourists love to photograph. How can stands full of fruit and vegetables not be colorful?
Fish stands occupy the end of Hanover St. toward Congress St., at least in the winter and cool months of spring and autumn. The oyster and clam bar is always at the same place in the middle of Hanover. (We were lucky to find live crayfish there a few years back. A rare treat. We wish they’d return.)
The biggest change of the pushcarts is in the people who run them. They used be all Italian men. Today, there are god-knows how many different nationalities: Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans, Arabs, Haitians — and probably some Yankees and Irish and Italians, too. The new owners offer ethnic specialties that were unknown at Haymarket a few years ago — from Latin American and Caribbean fruit to Asian vegetables. Several pushcarts specialize in herbs. Who would have imagined you could find stalks of sugar cane at Haymarket?
This reflects how customers represent just about every ethnic group and neighborhood in Boston. From students to pensioners and lots of folk with large families — from Beacon Hill to Chinatown to Roxbury and Dorchester — all wise shoppers buying fruit and vegetables at bargain prices.
North Enders and West Enders obviously love the pushcarts. The Haymarket area is reserved for pushcarts by state law. This means the city can’t kick out the pushcarts and hand over the land to a connected developer for high-rise office buildings or some other monumental monstrosity.
Perhaps the best change of the pushcarts in recent years is that many women are now working in or running the stands. They seem to have brought with them a new level of polite service to Haymarket.
Okay, to be accurate, there still are a few of the, “Hey, don’t pick” vendors, and some who flunked manners in First Grade. But their customers don’t take their advice and go to the supermarket (there’s none in the neighborhood, anyhow, thank you very much Mayor Menino and your BRA, for the unfulfilled promises going back 15 years). Now, poorly-served customers can simply turn to one of the majority of pushcarts where it’s self-service and “Thank you.”
Quality? I’d say, it’s excellent, compared with the price. Obviously, one must shop wisely. Some fruit or vegetables can be very ripe, but fine for immediate use.
All this will be introduced to a whole new customer base if the public markets ever open and attract visitors by the millions (yes, one developer mentioned millions strolling over from Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market). But those public markets are the vision of the Mayor, Governor, the BRA and Department of Transportation. So don’t hold your breath waiting for them to open and succeed.
But the Haymarket pushcarts are already here and continually improving their product, service, quality, variety, color, and offering amazing bargains.
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