The Changing Face of the Charleston City Market
One of the most well known landmarks in the Holy City, the Charleston City Market is home to more than 300 vendors of unique merchandise, much of it local and regional, as well as 50 sweetgrass basket weavers. Recently remodeled, the Great Hall is now heated and air conditioned with 18,300 square feet of micro boutiques. The bustling open air sheds below are filled with hundreds of entrepreneurs selling almost everything!
Contrary to local legend, the Market was never used to buy and sell enslaved humans. In 1788, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney ceded the land to the City of Charleston for the express use as a public market, and he stipulated that the land must remain in use as a market for perpetuity. To fulfill this requirement, the low buildings, sheds that stretch from Market Hall to the waterfront, were built between 1804 and the 1830s. These sheds originally housed meat, vegetable and fish vendors; each booth rented for $1 per day, or $2 if the booth had a slab of marble used to keep the meat or fish cold. Butchers often threw meat scraps into the street, much to the delight of local buzzards, which were nicknamed Charleston Eagles.
Over the years, the sheds have survived many disasters, including fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes and bombardment. In 1841, three years after the Masonic Hall on the corner of Meeting and Market Streets was destroyed by fire, the current Market Hall was erected. Architect Edward Brickwell White was paid $300 to create the building’s blueprints, which paid homage to the Temple of the Wingless Victory in Athens. The resulting handsome structure was originally used by the Market Commissioners for meetings and social functions, while the space beneath the hall housed vendors.
Today, the Charleston City Market, recognized as one of the oldest in the country, is part of a permanent exhibit entitled “Life in Coastal South Carolina c. 1840” at the American History Museum of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. But, in 1944, Charleston’s economy had stalled and only four determined vendors remained in the sheds. By 1973, an economic resurgence had begun, and the Charleston City Market was put on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2010, a $5.5 million makeover of the entire Market was begun, with a newly refurbished City Market opening to the public in June of 2011.
The Charleston City Market is open from 9:30 am until 5:30 pm daily. In March, the Night Market reopens for the season on Fridays and Saturdays, from 6:30 – 10:30 pm, with more than 50 local artisans and artists, plus live music and food vendors.
For more information about the Charleston City Market, call 843-937-0920 or visit www.charlestoncitymarket.com.