Located on the hive of activity that is Ninth Avenue, Chelsea Market is everything that is great about New York City. Fun, brash and fascinating, this historic shopping destination is a great place for a day out.
Located inside the old National Biscuit Company factory, Chelsea Market has been delivering fine foods, memorable retail experiences and the theater of market selling since 1997. But the history of this place goes back much further than that. After all, it was the place where the famous Oreo cookie was invented.
But let’s face it: you could read all about Chelsea Market on a popular tourist website. I wanted to give you a first-hand account of what a day here is really like.
I wasn’t really sure what to think when I first arrived at Chelsea Market. The building is frozen in time, and that’s part of its appeal. This place was the an industrial marvel during its heyday. NABISCO produced millions of cookies a year from this site during the 19th and 20th centuries — so it’s only fitting that the building retains most of its architectural authenticity.
I have to admit that I was a little underwhelmed when I first stepped inside the old NABISCO building. I was expecting something a lot more polished, but what I was confronted with was a series of market stalls running up and down the length of the building. It’s as if the old cookie-baking equipment was removed for the stall holders to move in moments later.
The open roof at Chelsea Market is a jaw-dropping reminder of what this building once was — and thank goodness it wasn’t modernized. This place has character, and you can almost smell those original Oreo cookies as you browse the shops and eateries.
Soaking Up the History
I had the chance to take a group tour of the market with friends, which would have given us our own guide. But we wanted to experience the place at our own pace, so we did a little research of our own. Our first port of call was the historic exhibit, which includes artifacts from the building’s industrial past and a timeline of how it rose to prominence back in the day. This was a great idea. We were able to treat our visit as a journey of discovery.
Shopping at Chelsea Market
Every new market trader had something different to offer, whether it was homemade gelato or fresh lobster. In fact, The Lobster Place was one of our favorite stores. We stocked up on fresh lobsters, Atlantic mackerel and Black Sea bass and took it back to eat in our apartment that evening. After a quick pit-stop at Fat Witch Bakery for dessert, we bought milkshakes at Ronnybrook Farm Dairy, which we sipped as we continued our walk.
If you shop anywhere at Chelsea Market, make sure it’s Buon Italia. This charming little store is a family-run business that wouldn’t look out of place in Rome. There is a wide selection of classic Italian sausage to choose from, as well as specialty cheeses, pastas and homemade sauces — just like Momma used to make.
A Few Words of Advice
I think the best way to approach a day at Chelsea Market is to go without a shopping list. Let this place “happen” to you, rather than attacking it with a plan. There’s so much to explore, and I guarantee you’ll make several impulse purchases that will make your day. Also, combine your trip to Chelsea Market with a stroll through Greenwich Village and a quick look around the Meatpacking District. This way, you’ll work up an appetite that can be satiated by the dozens of food stores and eateries in the old cookie factory.
Once you’ve been to Chelsea Market, all other markets pale into insignificance.