Mercado San Agustin Offers Visitors an Inviting Public Marketplace
January 28, 2014
by James J. Jefferies
Sometimes, in the frenzied rush to upgrade and modernize a town’s infrastructure, tiny segments of the community can become somewhat forgotten or off the newly-beaten path. In the case of the area surrounding the Mercado San Agustin, at the west end of Congress on the other side of Interstate 10, it can be very pronounced. “The freeway kind of separated that segment of the city from the rest of Downtown,” said Kira Dixon-Weinstein, Executive Director of Mercado San Agustin. This is a very old and historic portion of the Old Pueblo, and due to the revitalization of Downtown, this area will finally see a rapid increase in the number of visitors and commuters, thanks to the west-end terminus of the streetcar being precisely near the intersection of Congress and South Avenida del Convento. “Now via the streetcar,” said Dixon-Weinstein, “it’s a way of reuniting this historic corridor with the rest of the community.”
Mercado San Agustin offers visitors an bit of a unfamiliar, but totally welcome throwback experience for those of us who have become numb to the impersonal charms of modern shopping adventures at gargantuan malls or shopping centers. Upon approaching the Mercado’s east-facing entrance, one might be welcomed by the luscious aroma of roasted chiles, fire-grilled by a small vendor on a self-built cart. The very front of the Mercado is usually packed with a herd of street vendors, offering all manner of farm-fresh fruits, vegetables, beef jerky, wild Alaskan salmon, and countless other kinds of delectable foods.
Upon further inspection, you would be greeted by the sight of Taqueria El Pueblito, which is a very traditional, tasty-looking casual Mexican food stand with all of your hometown favorites. This spot will be the stationary home to the well-regarded food truck restauranteurs from Seis Kitchen and Catering come early March. You can get all sorts of fast refreshments, from icy raspados at Sonoran Sno Cones to piping hot coffee courtesy of Stella. La Estrella Bakery is also here, declaring war on your low-carb shenanigans with a drool-worthy selection of empanadas, tortillas, rolls, cookies, and and donuts. There is a custom cake shop, called Dolce Pastello, as well retail outlets such as La Cabaña and San Agustin Trading Company, which offer southwestern art and pottery, mirrors, rugs, boots, hats, and fine jewelry.
Above all else, it’s really the vibe that gives Mercado its identity. The open courtyard at the center of the place really gives it a relaxed atmosphere that somehow coaxes a visitor into taking their time here. “We wanted to invent a public market that was dynamic and representative of Tucson,” said Dixon-Weinstein, “that was accessible and had something for everyone.” While visiting, there were two violinists who had taken up a perch by the side of the courtyard, and while they played, more than a few shoppers stopped what they were doing to simply inhale the scene, enjoying their food or coffee and just taking a moment to enjoy the space.
Creating viable public spaces can be a thing we lose sight of in our twenty-first century rush to make everything as commercially accessible as possible, but the Mercado San Agustin seems well-positioned to deliver a wealth of delicious stuff along what will be a very traveled path, while offering a nice spot to mellow out with your neighbors, if you’re so inclined. A thriving market reflective of the community it serves, fully in-tune with the overarching themes running through our proud city’s revival. You can find Mercado San Agustin on the web here, and the market is located at 100 S. Avenida del Convento, right on the southwest corner at West Congress St.