i pretty much had no idea what i was getting myself into when i visited the downtown market. it sounds like a regular place. you know, cafes with the word “market” usually sell some sandwiches and soup. it sounds like a little bit of an upscale place where you’ll find middle-aged people. lots of tourists. so, when i typed in “downtown asheville cafes” in my phone and downtown market popped up, i thought i knew exactly what i was in for. the only thing was, it was a little bit out of the way from the center, center of downtown, on a street headed toward the river arts district – known for its artsy-ness.
i followed the directions from my phone and drove right past the cafe the first time. i mean, i didn’t see a cafe. after turning around and heading back up the street, i noticed a sign and understood that the downtown market was, indeed, inside a big, long, brick building. and then, i realized that i had no idea what lay behind those doors.
i parked my car on the street, across from the building, got out and just stood there. speechless. there was also a little sign that said “hi fi cafe”. so, clearly there was a little cafe inside this building. but it had a different name. i shut my car door, spun around, and immediately got distracted by this beautiful volkswagen van in a nearby parking lot. i walked over to it, almost like there was a magnet drawing me to it, and began a 5 minute photo shoot with the van, drooling and dreaming of my own cross-country trip. you know, sleeping in the van, traveling, writing, visiting diners and national parks. oh, i had a major case of wanderlust set in.
little did i know that the van was only the beginning of the little hippie-inspired experience waiting for me across the street.
i walked into the building, following other men & women, seemingly coming out of nowhere. when i opened the door and stepped in, i think i must have giggled out loud because a lady looked at me. my eyes scanned from left to right. all i saw was stuff. lots of stuff. tons of stuff. vintage stuff. old stuff. cool stuff. ugly stuff. stuff. stuff. stuff. i was in the middle of a freaking flea market. the downtown market is a flea market – and by the looks of it, a very popular one. come to find out, when i searched later and after spending an hour there, i realized that it is quite the loved place among people who want to thrift and up-cycle (a better word than recycle). all kinds of people were there. all ages. the clothes are cheap. and fun. and cool. there’s quirky, funky stuff. buddha statues and other sacred figures. there are antiques. furniture. books. records. art. every-freaking-thing. it’s all there. and. it. is. awesome.
i strolled around. taking photos. sifting through different booths and spaces, seeing things from my childhood and plenty of things much older than me. i could have stayed there for hours and hours. i could have shopped there – but, it would have taken a day to look through all the clothes. i am certain, though, that there are gems & treasures there. i have simply got to go back.
as if that was not enough, i turned a corner, and realized that one of the areas of stuff i saw when i entered was, in fact, a bar. yep. a real bar, complete with beer and wine. right there in the flea market. decorated with stuff for sale. truly amazing.
and then, i walked further and came upon the cafe. i snapped a few photos of this simple space, but i moved on because something caught my eye…. around the corner from the cafe was a grocery store. what?!
that’s right. the amazing savings market is connected to, or an extension of, the downtown market. it is asheville’s only discount and organic grocery store. and it is amazing – as the name suggests. a veritable haven for people concerned with cost, a desire to buy local and organic goods, and with a taste for something different. what an great alternative in food shopping.
after wandering through the grocery store, i headed back to the cafe for a little cup of coffee. served in a mug – nothing special. just a thrifted mug. and with a pasta noodle as a stirrer – organic. makes no trash. smart and cool idea, huh? i sat there and thought about this crazy, unexpected find. i loved this place. i loved everything about it. how it’s wrapped up with the asheville community. how it makes a difference to people of all kinds. how it’s weird and funky and eclectic. how everything they do has a purpose and a meaning – and it’s all about making people, the community, and the earth a better place.
needless to say, when my 40 days are up, as a resident in asheville, i will be returning… again & again. it may not be on the radar of tourists, but it should be. this is what the heartbeat of asheville is like. if you wanna know about asheville, come here. meet people. talk with people. and do something to help the community.
wow. the downtown market touched my soul and i left completely inspired.