The Charleston City Market is an iconic piece of Charleston's history whose legacy keeps evolving. The goods and wares sold have changed over the past 175 years but a creative spirit and ingenuity is now engrained in the market's local culture.
The energy of the Charleston City Market on a busy day is infectious. Your experience starts with a decision: North or South. You can enter at either end of the four block expanse of sheds that create this tourist destination. The good news is that there is no wrong answer. Just pick a side and go. The line typically moves at the pace of a Southern stroll. It is slow and measured, with long pauses, and ladened with strollers and bags of souvenirs. But the point of being at the market is not to get somewhere, because you are somewhere. So enjoy it!
Eventually, you will arrive at the middle shed which is the air-conditioned portion of the market. Here, the brick and stucco archway and wooden cross beams are painted white. Sunshine streams in from the skylights fixed in the high ceiling as pillars and paneled walls separate each shop. A random chivalrous soul always ends up getting stuck holding the door for a massive line of people. I refer to this section as the "permanent collection." Gone are the folding chairs and tables. In their place are built-in shelving units and glass cases. It's a great place to grab a cool drink or a sandwich from one of the food vendors. When you pass through the double doors at the other end you will run into my next set of local artisans.
In part one of my series on the Charleston City Market, I introduced you to a few of the standout local artists. In this installment, I will share with you the stories of the artisans.
Conn & Brandie Leithauser of: The Spice and The Spoon
A friendly hello and a smile were the first things to greet me as I approached The Spice and The Spoon booth. Brandie, the shop's co-owner, was exceedingly friendly and easy to talk to. I asked her how her shop at The Market became a business for her and her husband. "As a child, I spent many hours in the family kitchen watching my parents create all sorts of delicious dishes from family recipes. I enjoyed helping where I could by mixing or measuring." Conn, on the other hand, is a different story. He spent nearly 19 years in the corporate world, with 10 years as a licensed financial advisor. "He created the vision and infrastructure of our business, while I brainstormed in the kitchen to bring all the delicious creations that our customers enjoy," said Brandie. They hand blend all of their herbs and spices then carefully package and tie them with a hand drilled birchwood spoon. The combination of of their delicious products and their creative advertising make The Spice and The Spoon a popular stop at the City Market. "Their are times where we sell out of some of our more popular blends for a day or so. People come by looking for it and they start to panic. Luckily, we can ship it to them." Brandie commented with a smile. Having explained the purpose of my article to Brandie, she pointed me in the direction of my next local artisan: Jessica Reeks.
Jessica Reeks of: JK Designs
I found Jessica Reeks braving the summer heat under the shade of one of the white pop-up tents that you will sometimes find in-between the shed buildings. Still very much a part if The Charleston City Market, just without the added bonus of guaranteed shade and a ceiling fan. Her potential customers didn't seem to mind though, as they admired her beautiful handmade jewelry work. "I just put in my two weeks notice at my job yesterday!" Jessica shared proudly when asked if making jewelry was what she did for a living. "It makes a big difference when you can do what you love." Jessica started her jewelry making business by making vintage button rings. "I'd find these really cool looking buttons and craft wire around them to make rings. The ladies absolutely loved them! And it just went from there." Jessica's work is simplistic elegance. She creates the perfect platform to accentuate the best qualities of her materials with whimsy and imagination. She was kind enough to show me a few of her favorite pieces. My favorite piece was among them. It was a gold necklace of handcrafted medal that loops in the center and extends on either side to form an understated "V" shape with a moonstone hanging from the center. She told me she got the inspiration from a bird in flight which just made me love it even more. Jessica has a good eye and talent to spare. I'm looking forward to seeing what she does in the future.
April Lee of: Old Whaling Company
Around 4:30PM you can see The Charleston City Market slowly start to pack up and get ready to go home for the evening. At first, it is very subtle. Everything not on display gets corralled in one one place and quietly put away. Then, the excess decor comes down and then the signs. But I found The Old Whaling Company booth resolutely assembled with no concern over the impending departure time. So, admiring their spirit, I made April's booth my last stop of the evening. "When my infant son developed what I thought was diaper rash, our family physician diagnosed him with eczema," April explained. "I went home to do research on how I could improve his condition naturally. After a local pharmacist suggested goat milk soap, I gave it a shot and learned to make it. After stopping use of all commercial soap products it went away, and our entire family seemed to have healthier skin." Now producing everything from body scrubs to shaving bars. The Old Whaling Company has been in South Carolina since 2012 and April's products can be found at retailers in Charleston, North Carolina, and Maine.
With The Charleston City Market closing for the evening, I headed back to the intersection of Market Street and Meeting Street. Whilst waiting for the light to change, I went over who I had met and all that I learned. I realized I had my work cut out for me choosing who I would feature in in this series. I had spent an entire afternoon at the market and barely scratch the surface of the talent and skills that all the artists, craftsman, and artisans have to offer. I highly encourage you to stop here if you are ever in the Charleston area. If not for the shopping, then for the stories and experiences that the local artisans can share with you.