World Famous Bull Market, Quincy Market

Sunday, January 23rd, 6:24pm

I have lived in Boston my entire life. Have walked along the Freedom Trail and over the cobblestone paths, past Faneuil Hall. Have climbed the stairs, walked between the columns. Never once have I heard this place called Boston’s World Famous Bull Market, which the front door says should have closed at 6.

Forcing my way in through the cracked-open door left ajar by someone who has just exited the market. I hustle past the closing-up ice cream stand, Starbucks, the bagel shop, the chowder counter with the stools flipped up on the counters, and past a fair number of people still strolling the main artery. I am still recovering from the bitter, bitter cold of my walk over here even as I claim a table near the center-most spot in the great rotunda and eating hall that serves as the origin point of this entire market complex. A janitor is walking around wiping down tables (including the unoccupied other half of my table) and emptying the trash, which is no small task as it turns out. The large, standard-issue gray metal drums are everywhere it seems, lest anyone wander more than a few steps through this assembly line of consumption without having somewhere to discard the empty containers of the already-consumed to make room in their hands for the still-to-be-consumed.

The large open space of the two-story brick building bears the marks of determined adaptive re-use. Retro advertising signs – whether authentic or reproductions – adorn the interior brick walls: Scales*Cutlery*Baskets; Carroll & Liley: Butcher Supplies, Grinding, Saw Filing; Empire Fruit Co: Distributors of Applecrest Apples; EGGS. One can imagine this place filled with the sounds of vendors hawking their home-made wares and skilled services. What were large-framed windows and doors are now apertures into the outer wings of the building, which house rows of Boston-themed souvenir carts under a canopy of glass reinforced by a cross-hatch of thick, black, steel beams. Through the glass, I can see the speckles of white Christmas lights on the trees and the “Urban” of Urban Outfitters, one of the South Market Shops across the way.

Gazing up and around me, I notice a saying that wraps around the inner rim of the second floor balcony: This Building Has Served the People of Boston as the Central Market of the City since its Dedication in August, 1826. Through this oval ring, the ellipse of the grand domed ceiling looks distorted and two-dimensional. Like the ceiling, the white, plasticky, Doric columns that support the balcony and that line the arcade of the food court mingle classical style with shoddy modern-day commercial workmanship. The array of placards and signs that jut out along the entire length of the colonnade to draw customers in erases any aura of a pre-capitalist, industrial, or ancient space. A triangular yellow caution sign stamped with the red logo for Rubbermaid Commercial Products sits smack-dab in the middle of the rotunda as a safety measure against any potential lawsuits.

As I climb the steps to the second floor, it seems fitting that the balcony is temporarily closed for remodeling. Equipment for the renovation is neatly arranged in one corner, as if set up for a picture. Nearby, a contractor stares out the window and yaks into his cell phone. A couple, seeking peace from the frenzy of the downstairs, sit together in intimate conversation with their backs leaning against the far wall. Now a painter stands on the stairs I have just ascended and uses a long roller to paint a new coat of whitewash on the interior of this historic building.

I imagine not all that much has changed here. A sales job is a sales job. Looking to buy a taste of Boston? The shops are closed for the night. But if you do make it back to the market, don’t believe the bull: no matter how they paint it, they’ve all sold out.

Boston.com just ran a cool photo slideshow comparing images of Boston: Then and Now (including a great one of Quincy Market)

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