Location: 5th & Walnut, Kansas City, Missouri. (If you’re using a GPS, try 20 E. 5th Street, Suite 201 Kansas City, MO 64106.)
As explained on their Web site,
The City Market has a rich history dating back to 1857 when the City Market Square began as a site for market commerce, horse trading, political rallies, revival, medicine shows and circuses.
My Aunt B introduced me to the River Market in the late 1990s during a family reunion; Efrit and I have been visiting sporadically since we moved to the Metro area in 2003. What we visit for–and recommend–is the weekend Farmer’s Market that fills the market square. It is an experience not to be missed.
You never know what you’re going to find at the market. When Efrit, Sprout, Peanut and I visited this past Saturday, we discovered bitter melon, an amazing orchid vendor, a Moonwalk and inflated slide, corn on the cob at $10 a box, gelato, a saxophonist, succulents, and yellow zucchini. There’s art, farm-fresh food and flowers, and a cultural hodgepodge of people from miles around. If you want to buy spices from a middle-eastern-style vendor, no problem: he’s there, selling spices at $1 a scoop (a scoop will fill a tall spice jar). (I’ve been to the medina in Fez, and yes, it really is like that.) You want to try your fruit before you buy it? No problem–there’s several spaces where you can do that as well. You’ll hear sounds of different languages and touch all sorts of cultures–it really is an interesting place.
If you’re looking for a multi-sensory experience, the River Market can’t be beat. You can hear the sounds of different languages and street musicians. There are the tastes of all sorts of foods from the vendors both in the Farmer’s Market and in the stores and restaurants around the edges of the market; while we were there Saturday, we sampled organic cookies, fresh Missouri peaches, Italian gelato, fresh-made cherry limeade (complete with seeds!) and cold Ozarka bottled water. Many of the vendors will offer you samples or, at the Wholesale Grocery, you’re encouraged to try before you buy–so go ahead, pop that grape in your mouth and see what you think! The smells here are amazing. There’s the smells of people, but also of flowers, rich spices, and the delicious smells from the eateries. The textures are as varied as the products–I have no idea what it tastes like, but the bitter melon that was at so many stands this past weekend has to be the oddest-looking and feeling fruit I’ve encountered.
The market is also an O&M experience: there’s a big crowd of people, so it can be a good place to learn how to navigate. (It can, on the flip side, also be pretty overwhelming.) Although the Farmer’s Market itself is on a flat surface, that surface is crowded with people–it’s challenging to get through with a wagon, although there are many people with wagons and strollers, so it may be a bit much to try with a wheelchair or other large assistive device. There are ramps everywhere, but sometimes stairs are easier to get to, so navigation can be an issue. As far as a place to learn to get around large groups of people and “stuff,” this is as good as KC has to offer.
The downsides of the River Market: it’s crowded. Very. This makes parking challenging at best–and having a handicapped parking tag is no guarantee that you will get parking close to the site. It can be hard to navigate, especially if you haven’t been there before or recently, particularly in terms of finding your way from your car to the market itself (we have a hard time remembering the market’s exact location, so we’re never sure where to park). It’s outside, so you’re going to be dealing with the elements, whatever they may be; this past Saturday, those elements were HOT.
This is also the first time I’ve encountered the “stop and stare” phenomenon. I can’t say that I haven’t noticed it before now and then, and gotten a fair number of fascinating (and borderline rude) questions, but this is the first time, with my little guy with his little cane, that I had people actually stop, look down, and stare. They generally didn’t get out of the way, other than to step just the barest bit to the side; they’d just stop, look down, and stare. It happened enough that I really noticed it and took note of it; I’d swear at least one person’s stare was along the lines of “what are you thinking, letting him walk here?” If you’re the type that is sensitive to people noticing you or your kiddo, this might not be the place for you. Please note that we did also encounter some very super-nice people who went out of their way to be friendly and say “Hi!” to Peanut, so it’s not all negative (and the s&s’ers weren’t particularly rude or negative, all said), but I noticed this reaction enough (3-4 times, at least, while we were there?) that I thought I should note it here. Efrit, for his part, simply noted that the s&s just meant that Peanut was doing his job as an ambassador for the blind.
All said, as long as you’re ok with the occasional s&s, the heat and the mobility challenges, I do recommend the River Market as an awesome place to visit and buy groceries. I recommend going early in the day (I think we got there by 11 a.m., and I would’ve preferred to be there earlier); having cash on you (small bills are better–definitely nothing over a $20); and taking along a wagon, backpack, or other easy-to-carry device–because you are definitely going to buy something!
On our last visit, we emerged with: potatoes, peaches, strawberries, lemons, limes, onions, 3 succulent seedlings, zucchini in not one but two colors (who knew it came in yellow?!), and a massive box of peaches-and-cream sweet corn. Along the way, Peanut and I climbed and sailed down a massive inflatable slide; Peanut, Sprout and I shared a white-chocolate-raspberry cheesecake gelato; Efrit and I slurped down fresh cherry limeades while Peanut sucked down a root beer; and we wolfed down some Ozarka spring water because it was really, really hot. Maybe next time I’ll pack some bottled water, too!!