Detroit's Western Market, 1930s

Detroit’s Eastern and Western Markets

Image: Detroit’s crowded Eastern Market, 1930s. Detroit News Archive.

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Since 1889, the Detroit Eastern Farmer’s Market has been a municipally-owned center for the sale of farm produce, including wholesale and retail. The market was, and still is, a way for urban consumers to purchase goods directly from farm growers.  Within the structure of the market, there are both formal and informal organizations.  Formally, it is administered by the Bureau of Markets, which is a division of the Department of Purchases and Supplies. The Bureau supervisor answers directly to the commissioner of the Department of Purchases and Supplies, who in turn answers directly to the mayor. The market was also formally designed to have a series of stalls for each farmer to occupy. Informally, the market was basically self-regulated by the farmers and dealers themselves, arranging themselves in stalls near others who sell different products so that there is less competition.  Kinships and friendships within the market were also considered to be important, as connections better help to sell goods.

Most of the farmers in the market were of German and Belgian descent, since Detroit had a heavy amount of European migrants during the 1830s. The market “prospered greatly from the waves of immigrants” that arrived in Southeast Michigan in the early 20th century, many of whom brought their agricultural backgrounds and farming experience with them.  The market offered immigrants a sense of community within distinct social circles of vendors and customers from similar ethnic origins. The market also boasted the lowest prices in the area, an important factor for many poor immigrant families when choosing where to shop. The Eastern Market’s wide variety of goods catered to Detroit’s eclectic mix of immigrant tastes.  Urban spaces like the Eastern Market have provided Detroit communities with a place in where the “intersection (of) many groups and cultures” allows people from the inner city, the suburbs, and other diverse backgrounds to interact and socialize: a purpose these markets still fulfill today (De Weese, 17). The Eastern Market has served the people of Detroit since its beginnings and has remained a prominent center for both agricultural commerce and social interaction within the city for close to 125 years.

Detroit’s Western Market, 1932. Detroit News Archive.

The Western Market was also popular in Detroit during the 1930s. It was bustling with hundreds of farmers, buyers, and city dwellers.  Trucks were arranged as close as possible and numbers of large baskets containing fresh produce lined the surrounding area. Young to middle-aged men tended to be the ones to sell the farmed products, ranging from apples to poultry. In the busy summer months, the men, both farmers and consumers, dressed presentably, wearing trousers, button-down shirts, and brimmed hats. Their attire indicates that the market brought together many formal interactions between those in the agriculture sector and those working in the booming city of Detroit.  Many conversations took place as buyers shopped from truck to truck searching for groceries.

Although the Western Market was the second of Detroit’s produce markets (Eastern Market being the first), it only lasted 74 years. Leading up to its closing were the freezing and packaging of foods, in addition to direct buying by chain stores.  By 1965, the market’s 309 stalls were demolished in order for the city to start the construction of the Fisher Freeway.  Western Market depicts the busy city activity of how Detroit used to be during the early twentieth century, showing the positive ties between agriculture and industry.

  • Bill Loomis, “Wild Times at the Farmers Market,” Detroit News, July 31 2011.
  • The Detroit News, “September 10, 1932. Detroit’s Western Market,” Detroit Newshttp://detroitnewsarchivist.tumblr.com/post/24901619526/september-10-1932-detroits-western-market (accessed February 20, 2014).
  • Pamela Marshall De Weese, The Detroit Eastern Farmer’s Market: Its Social Structure and Functions (Detroit, MI: Ethnic Studies Division Center for Urban Studies Wayne State University, 1975), 7,17,18.
  • “Shoppers Crowd Detroit’s Eastern Market in the 1930s,” Photo, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.

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