Southern Shopping

Winter 2004 CSANews Issue 53  |  Posted date : May 16, 2007.Back to list

Wherever you are in the sunny south, there's always shopping close by. Dave and Kathy Hunter visit some of the local farmers' and produce markets in the southeast. I have a confession to make, I hate shopping...unless it's Radio Shack, Future Shop or Home Depot, of course! But when I hit the southern sunbelt, I'm a different person. I love poking around the produce-laden tables of a local farmers' market or exploring the crowded booths of a flea or antique market. There is a sense of adventure in these places which seems to be absent from the malls. In these pages, I'm going to share some of the best shopping experiences from our recent travels as Kathy and I have been meandering around the southeast, gathering material for my next travel book. We are going to go where the locals gather, usually on a Friday or Saturday morning, where fresh produce and seafood is readily available and sounds of people and music fill the air...the local markets of the South. Our first stop is a favourite of mine. We were in Fort Pierce following a Navy Seals story last winter when the local tourism director suggested a visit to the Ft. Pierce Downtown Farmer's Market, to fill the time before the Seals' Museum opened. Located beside the Intercoastal Waterway and next to the causeway running out to South Hutchinson Island, the market is very easy to find (from I-95, take exit 131 and drive 6 km east to Ft. Pierce – turn left at US1 and drive 1 km – the market is on your right). Parking our car is also simple, since there are so many small streets in the vicinity and people are constantly coming and going. Once parked, we walk into the market's open area. The plaza of interlocking red bricks and the colourful awnings of the many booths give a fiesta feeling to the scene. Wonderful aromas of cheese bread and cinnamon rolls waft through the Saturday-morning air and, above the hubbub of passing shoppers, we hear the splashing of a fountain and distant melodic strains of a classical guitarist. A warm and friendly scene. There's a wide diversity of produce available: from fresh seafood to locally grown fruits and vegetables; from old-fashioned candies to local arts and crafts. We stop at the popular Bradley Honey booth, now in the family's fourth generation, and find honeys from all over southeast Florida. As expected, orange-blossom honey with or without honey comb is one of the local favourites, but there are many other choices as well. Across the booth's checkered tablecloth, honeys from palmetto, tupelo and wild tropical nectars are arrayed in neat rows of different-sized jars with – colours varying from light honey yellow to dark amber. We need a gift for our neighbour in the north and just before leaving, Kathy spots a craft stall with some very clever flower figures. We buy several, rounding out a perfect morning at the Ft. Pierce Market. There are many such local markets throughout the Sunshine State. In Florida's northeast lies the oldest marketplace in North America. Established in 1565, while Florida was being colonized under the Spanish flag, St. Augustine's Plaza de la Constitución served for town meetings and markets for hundreds of years until development in the 1930s required their relocation. Today, the ancient treed and grassy park adjacent to the old Spanish Government House still serves for outdoor social functions, but the traditional farmers' market has moved in two directions. The Old City Farmer's Market is held every Saturday, beginning at 8:30 a.m. on the grounds of the St. Augustine Ampitheatre, two miles south of the city on route A1A. In addition to regular market fare, an array of specialty breads, sauces and seafood including shrimp can be found at its stalls, together with local art and craft products. Live bluegrass music entertains you in the background as you wander among the 40 or more vendors of this traditional marketplace. If locally grown citrus, bromeliads and orchids are closer to your needs, then head to the St. Augustine Beach Farmers Market held every Wednesday morning at the St. John's County Pier. Inland, a few miles east of Disney World, is the old Floridian town of Kissimmee where early every Thursday morning on the corner of Pleasant and East Monument, you will find the overflowing bins of fruits and vegetables of the Downtown Kissimmee Farmers Market. A veritable rainbow of vibrant reds, oranges, yellows, purples and greens greet the visitor's eye. From fresh farm produce to colourful garden flowers and plants – it's a wonderful Kodak moment for the visiting photographer. But there's more. After a morning of browsing and buying, just slip around the corner to one of the quaint cafes that line the downtown area for a late breakfast or early lunch. Now for a complete change of pace, let's visit a "celebrity" shopping area which has an international reputation of exclusivity, the sort of street on which Donald Trump shops and Lamborghini's contest space with "Rollers" at its few parking meters. Of course, I'm referring to Palm Beach's Worth Avenue. We happened to be on Interstate-95 near exit 70 in February, so we decided to leave the freeway, cross the causeway and visit this famous street of high-style stores. I've been to other exclusive retail areas before, but was quite unprepared for the understated charm and beauty of this tree-lined boulevard. Although exalted shops such as Cartier, Gucci and Tiffany crowd shoulder to shoulder along the way, it's the tiny courtyards and alleyways punctuating the Italian and Spanish street facade which make Worth Avenue a fun place to explore...while keeping your credit cards firmly in your purse or wallet. The trickling of water in courtyard fountains seduces you into these nooks and crannies as you stroll along the Avenue. Antiqued ceramic mosaic, sometimes partly covered with moss or tropical plantings, give an "old world" atmosphere to your explorations. Unusual architectural features, such as tiled water troughs for pampered dogs or wall-fountain heads seeping water down the stonework draw the eye wherever you go. Bottom line? Worth Avenue is definitely worth a visit. Finally, let's travel westward from Florida to Louisiana and visit a "celebrity" market, the New Orleans French Market, where the late Julia Child sometimes shopped for fresh produce. Established in 1813 on the eastern side of the Crescent City's famed French Quarter, the market occupies a number of blocks running along Decatur and N. Peter Streets, where the French Quarter's Ursulines Street crosses both. Just ask any local to direct you to the golden statue of Joan of Arc and you will be "in the area." If you like a breakfast which is world famous, traditional jazz with your lunch and watching celebrity chefs select fresh produce for their evening offerings, then you have come to the right place...the French Market area offers all three. For breakfast, you can do no better than to start at the Café du Monde (open 24 hours) for its signature beignets (brought from France by nuns in 1727, beignets are hand-rolled, deep-fried dough covered liberally with powdered sugar) washed down with café du lait (strong roasted coffee and chicory, served with an equal part of hot milk). It is considered sacrilege to go to New Orleans without breakfasting at least once at this renowned eatery. Your visit to the café is often accompanied by a street jazz musician who sets up "stage" on the sidewalk outside, but my choice is to wander down the block to the French Market Park where lunch is served daily to the accompaniment of a small Trad Jazz group, playing such standards as "Muskrat Ramble" and "Basin Street Blues" (requests accepted). A few blocks away is one of New Orleans' best-kept secrets. If you decide to stay overnight, try and get a room at Le Richelieu (corner of Chartres and Barracks Streets). Although in the French Quarter, it is so quiet (and safe) that it is the choice of many visiting celebrities. Paul McCartney and his family stayed here while recording locally...and yet it is very reasonably priced. It is also the only hotel in this area which has an adjacent (supervised) car park. Finally, a tip for the southern shopper no matter where you are. The best "shopping" activity of all is to buy some food, a hotdog or perhaps a paper cone of fresh-cooked shrimp or stone crab meat, find a bench...and watch the people go by. As a way to relax, you just cannot beat it! Concerned about hurricane damage in Florida? It's worth noting that the photos of the Ft. Pierce Market accompanying this article were all taken since mid-October, and yet the market was right in the eye of September's very damaging Hurricane Jeanne. Florida is definitely open for business again!