Ask almost any Charlotte native about Eastland Mall and they will likely have fond memories of skating at the indoor ice rink, shopping at name brand stores, or hanging out at the food court. But since it was demolished in 2013, the once-thriving shopping complex has become 80-acres of neglected wasteland.
That is, until the Charlotte Open Air Market moved in last summer.
On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, you can find about 100 or so tents set up, flea-market style, in the abandoned mall parking lot.
Here are five reasons why you should visit this vibrant market:
(1) The fresh produce
From peanuts, to papayas, to tomatillos, to yuca, there is no shortage of boxes, bins and buckets brimming with fruits and veggies.The prices are cheaper than your average grocery store. I cleared out my change purse to pick up a bright lusty bundle of cilantro for 70 cents. Your move, Harris Teeter.
(2) The people watching
I love how this market captures the rich diversity of the east side. Strolling around, I heard different languages and saw people of all ages and ethnicities. It’s a far cry from the homogeneous crowds other popular Charlotte markets attract (I’m looking at you, Front Porch Sundays, Food Truck Fridays, VTGCLT) and, in my opinion, much more interesting as a result. The people watching here is a good reminder of the many different nationalities represented in our city.
(3) The $1.50 tacos
Yep, that’s right. I paid $1.50 for that beauty. A mouth-watering combination of grilled onions, steaming pork, pineapple, cilantro, lime juice and a side of salsa verde all for six quarters. Easily the best taco I’ve had in Charlotte. While I bought from Mini Taco, there are several different taco trucks parked throughout the market.
(4) The STUFF
You can find anything here. Literally. Brand new running shoes, a cute mirror for your bedroom, a lawn mower, a Yankees baseball hat, a beach towel, yoga pants, a bed, a pair of Chuck Taylor All Stars. Sure, you have to sift, but bargaining is kosher and part of the fun. You’ll find plenty of name-brand items for a steal. My friend got a like-new Graco jogger stroller there for $40 — one that would easily go for $200 at Target.
(5) One word: ELOTE
This Mexican street food staple is reason enough to venture out here. Elote is grilled corn on a stick, flavored with all sorts of delicious seasonings like cheese, mayonnaise, chili powder and lime juice. I’m salivating just thinking of it.
What are you waiting for? Go!
If you like the comforts of shopping in a temperature-regulated environment with cutesy window displays and plush dressing rooms, by all means, go to the new J. Crew store at Park Road or Anthropologie in South End. But if you value adventure, diversity, delicious food and bargain prices, the Eastland Open Air Market is truly — to borrow the words of the late great poet Tupac Shakur — a rose in the concrete.
Photos: Sara Kay Mooney