Friday, July 25, 2008

Letter from Manhattan: Stiles Show, Pt. 1

Our friend Mark, a writer and editor, came for a visit a few weeks ago and I asked him if he'd be interested in sharing his thoughts on what it's like to be a small-town Oregon boy who's moved to the Big Apple. He graciously agreed to give it a go, and in his first letter he talks about a market in his neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen.

Summer in the Willamette Valley—I hardly need tell anyone who reads this—is a season of endless bounty. Farmers Markets, U-Pick operations, and roadside produce stands offer a stream of inexpensive, freshly harvested everything.

I remember one of these stands from my childhood in Yamhill County. It was run by a family named Wirf, just up the road from my Grandpa Dundas’s farm—along Highway 99 near Dundee, Oregon. Whatever variety of fruit or berry wasn’t growing on your own property, you could probably find at Wirf’s.

OK, so you probably couldn’t get starfruit. But who knew from starfruit in those days? Local stuff, though? In spades. Later I found operations on Sauvie Island that were much more elaborate than Wirf’s—and pretty hard to drive by without stopping and checking them out.

Living in the middle of Manhattan, I find such bonanzas somewhat rarer. Still, summertime here can still induce blasts from my fresh-produce past. Certainly there are no U-Picks handy in Hell’s Kitchen—unless what you’re looking to do is rifle through debris left by tourists on 42nd Street. But there are plenty of markets with sidewalk displays of produce, as well as pushcart vendors offering fresh fruit. On my way to work, I often buy a banana from one of these guys, on the corner of 45th Street and 5th Avenue.

Except on the days when he’s not there. Don’t ever depend entirely on anything in New York City.

There are outdoor Farmers Markets here and there, including a good one a few subway stops south from me, in Union Square. Here, during summer weekends, you can also get tomato and pepper and geranium plants for your window box or sill. And there are big gourmet food stores too, of course—Whole Foods and Fairway. But those stores don’t remind me in the least of rural summers in Oregon.

But there is a store—a plum’s throw from the Port Authority Bus Station— that is a godsend to a thrifty former Oregonian: the year-round Stiles Farmers Market. Hot, sweaty and crowded in the summer months and cold, shivery and crowded in the winter, Stiles is not an entirely open-air operation. But in lieu of a solid roof it has a big tent-top that flaps noisily in the middle of a good gust. The floors are rolling asphalt and you probably should avoid the place after a drenching summer thunderstorm.

There is a second Stiles on 52nd Street with an almost identical layout. However, a couple years ago a handwritten sign in the front of one Stiles proclaimed that it had no affiliation with the other. I’m not sure whether that was a permanent rift or merely a short-term family feud. Regardless, either store is worth checking out if you’re ever visiting Manhattan and want to score, say, some apricots to have on hand in your hotel room.

Look for Pt. 2 coming soon!

Photos from


Corvallis Martha said...

I want Part 2 and I want it NOW!

With love to Mark.

kab said...

Check it out a little later today!