CHICAGO: From 7a.m. to 3p.m. every Sunday, the United States’s longest-running open air flea market has much on offer—from household cleaning supplies to incense sticks and essential oils sourced from the Far-East, and Victoria’s Secret lingerie to rare vinyl records from decades ago.
The 105-year-old Maxwell Street market carries its legacy name despite having had to move twice: In 1994, the City of Chicago moved the market from its original location, citing the expansion of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Again, in 2008, the market was moved a few blocks further east, to its current location on South Desplaines Street.
Tighter security and regulations bolstered each move, despite vendors and visitors alike claiming a loss in the market’s original feel and flavor.
Once the hub for Jewish immigrants arriving from Europe in the late 1800s, the Maxwell Street market also proved a haven in the 1920s for many African Americans moving up north during the Great Migration.
Over the next few decades, the market would provide them employment; some would even jam here in their spare time, creating what has come to be known as the Delta-style blues or Chicago blues.
Today too, most of the hawkers here—a little over 100—are immigrants. The food in the market is mostly Mexican.
Outside the Maxwell Street market, there’s a buzz of rumors about the city administration’s deliberate neglect towards it.
Inside, a thick and quiet silence has descended over it, enveloped by a blanket of summer humidity — Maxwell Street’s trademark blues too have been sidelined. ▪️