Shopping Al Fresco

An insiders guide to markets on the East Side


There’s something magical about a marketplace. In an era where free two-day shipping via drone is more of a possibility than a punch line, the experience offered by an outdoor market is unmatched. Whether thumbing through a rack of vintage clothing, inhaling the sweet scents of fresh fruit or just chatting with a friendly vendor, the marketplaces delight the senses. The market is an ancient institution and there’s good reason for that longevity. Open-air, local markets provide an alternative to the impersonal experience of shopping online or at a mega-retailer. Markets also stimulate the local economy, as studies in cities like Portland, Oregon and Flint, Michigan have shown.

Thankfully, two excellent outdoor marketplaces call the East Side home. With some planning, you can spend the better part of your weekend scanning colorful booths for the ideal knickknack or a succulent snack.

Wake up early on Saturday and head to the Hope Street Farmers Market in Lippitt Park. From 9am to 1pm, the Hope Street Market hosts an exciting array of vendors, from traditional outlets like Fairland Farms and City Farm to the mycologically-minded RI Mushroom Company. If you can’t make Saturday, the market is also open Wednesdays from 3-6pm.

Eggs, chicken, beef, lamb and pork are always in stock at the market, as are fresh fish, scallops, oysters and goat cheese. You can craft a luscious Saturday night dinner by filling up your shopping bag with some produce from the market, which runs the gamut from classic veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and spinach to more adventurous ingredients like bok choi.

While you’re shopping for the best ingredients for your next gastronomic masterpiece, you can get your knives, scissors and gardening paraphernalia honed by Poor Boy Sharpening. When the midday hunger pangs strike, you can either satiate them (try Tallulah’s Tacos or one of the market’s four food trucks) or stave them off a bit longer (with java from New Harvest Coffee).

Once you’ve had your fill of grocery shopping, you might want to stop at the Providence Artisans Market (also in Lippitt Park), open from 10am until 2pm on Saturdays. There’ll be paintings, ceramics, crafts, accessories and all sorts of arty goodness available for purchase from local artisans.

Past offerings have included New Moon Studio’s opalescent ceramics, the bohemian chic accessories of The Utopian Collection, the ultra-whimsical art of Giraffes and Robots and necklaces carved from walnuts by Conanicut Sheepworks. You can even round out your household shopping list with a premium bar of suds from Stella Marie Soap Company.

On Sunday, visit the Providence Flea from 10am to 4pm. Located on the scenic Providence River Greenway, the Providence Flea is modeled after the gargantuan Brooklyn Flea and it is a shimmering oasis of vintage goods, artisanal treats and fresh food.

The Providence Flea is packed with old objects waiting to be resurrected by a new owner. While the lineup of vendors rotates, you’re guaranteed to find craftspeople with handmade wares, antiques and jewelry. Visiting flea markets can sometimes feel like strolling through an elderly relative’s dilapidated house, but the Providence Flea aims to create a more upscale environment where lovers of old, odd and repurposed objects can congregate.

You won’t find musty, browning paperbacks or dirtied porcelain at Providence Flea. In recent weeks, the Flea’s vendors have sold upcycled textiles, retro Polaroid cameras, hardy succulents (in vintage vases, of course), signs made from old license plates and adorably campy pull toys. Providence Flea voraciously updates its Facebook page so you can browse pictures of other people’s great finds.

If you find it hard resisting the siren call of Providence Flea after seeing its wares, the menu just might do you in. Vendors that have served up delicious grub at Providence Flea include Plouf Plouf Gastronomie, Dave’s Coffee, Like No Udder and FUGO.

The Flea celebrated its first birthday in June and has already magnetized the attention of those hip and in the know. It scored an Editor’s Choice award from Yankee Magazine for “Best Vintage Finds.” If you’re the thrifty type for whom Savers and Salvation Army can now manage to summon only a groan and a sigh, Providence Flea might be the place for you.

After a weekend of shopping locally in the Creative Capital, the buzzing fluorescents of big box stores might seem a bit harsher, a little less friendly. How can you return to the humdrum tedium of supermarket errand running? No worries: like many a good time, Providence’s outdoor markets come and go with the weekend. And like all good times, these are market trips worth savoring.