A co-worker who was born and raised in Southeast Washington revealed that before she became a teenager, she had never left her neighborhood. She had little reason to; most everything she desired was within a few blocks of her home. I remembered this as we traversed town to spend another great day bargain shopping and exploring the community near Eastern Market at 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue SE in Capitol Hill.
We didn't need to venture far from the Eastern Market Metro stop. Just north of the station on the 300 block of 7th Street SE are two places I wanted to visit first, before we wore ourselves out at Eastern Market Farmers Market and Flea Market. Monkeys' Uncle consignment shop and Fairy Godmother children's books and toys store are conveniently located in adjacent row-houses. As we parked our stroller outside beside the front steps and prepared to carry AS inside the cozy little stores (read: not stroller or wheelchair accessible), a 3-year-old passing by with her grandmother said, "I want to go to Fairy Godmother". It was apparently a place she liked enough to know by name.
The two men who operate Monkeys' Uncle, "purveyor of recycled children's clothing" and maternity wear, are DC residents and proud uncles to nieces and nephews. Their mission is to provide affordable clothing for infants to pre-teens by applying the principles of reduce, recycle, reuse and rethink. They greeted us immediately and were overheard offering "The Father's Chair", a comfortable resting place, to an older gentleman shopping with his daughter and her child. Prices are reasonable, more than a thrift store but less than retail. The clothing is gently worn but clean, current and seasonal. It was a relief to browse items presented neatly by size, unlike shopping at large thrift stores. I quickly found dress shirts, tees, and pajamas to fit AS and was offered help when I wanted to see the toddler pants located in bins stacked above the clothing racks. In addition to clothing, there was a shelf of parenting books and some baby gear. Check the store website if you hope to sell your children's outgrown clothing to Monkey's Uncle. They constantly provide "intake" updates to prevent you from schlepping over with bags of stuff unnecessarily.
At Fairy Godmother, an independent book and toy store, we were also immediately offered assistance but chose to simply wander the aisles discovering a wonderful variety of merchandise for infants to teens. I spied Caldecott and Newberry award winning books for younger readers, foreign language titles, and bestsellers like the Twilight series for big kids. The toys ranged from bargain items at the front counter (perfectly priced for a child spending their hard-earned allowance) to moderately priced educational and eco-friendly toys, craft kits and musical instruments to more expensive collectibles. The proprietor was graciously complaisant when our toddler wanted to touch everything and also perfectly happy to ring up our modest purchase, a metal kazoo for $2.50. A community bulletin board near the door advertises upcoming events, and complimentary copies of "Kids' Next" provide book recommendations for kids ages 4 and up from indie booksellers. The shop does not have a website, but reviews and info are available on ParentsConnect.com. It is closed on Sundays.
Eastern Market, on the 200 block of 7th Street SE, is Washington's "oldest and continually operated fresh food public market" and a great outing with kids, especially on sunny weekends when local farmers peddle fresh produce, artists and collectors sell crafts and antiques, the flea market is bustling, and musicians perform outdoors. My son was especially thrilled by the artists painting and drawing as he watched, blues musicians swaying children to dance, vendors displaying hand-crafted toys (like wooden whirligigs whirring in the wind! Wow!), and even flocks of pigeons taking flight from the market rooftop. Parents will love the unique, hand-made baby items such as knitted hats, toys and wall art at the Arts and Crafts fairs on Saturdays and the affordable children's clothing at the flea market on Sundays. Food merchants sell their tasty wares, including deli sandwiches and baked goods, indoors at the South Hall Market, part of a historic building renovated after a fire in 2007. Free food samples are sometimes available, or ask for a taste. The Market is closed Mondays. Hours are posted here. The North Hall is used for community events, including weekly $10 Tango Night classes which are open to the public. See the Events Calendar for details.
If you wish to grab lunch at the Market, picnic tables are available outside and it's often easier to find a seat there than at the cafe indoors. If the tables are full, cross North Carolina Avenue SE and enjoy a little picnic in the grass at the small Turtle Park play area with concrete turtle statues perfectly sized for kids to climb on. The small statues were created by local artist John Giesecke.
Also, don't miss the birdhouses unexpectedly embellishing the park's trees!
At the end of the day, before heading back home on the Metro, consider recharging with a cup of coffee (bring-your-own) and soaking up the air-conditioning and conversation at The Family Room while your children enjoy safe toys, books and art supplies or a climbing structure provided for their amusement. Admission to The Family Room, an indoor play area located a few blocks southeast of Eastern Market on 8th Street SE, is free for children under age one and for adults accompanying a child. An all-day pass (you may come and go with your child, as often as you like) for children ages 1-6 is $10, but the price drops to $5 after 3:00 Sunday to Thursday or after 5:00 Friday and Saturday. The Family Room also hosts family dinner-and-movie nights on Fridays and a babysitting service for couples looking to get away to a near-by restaurant on Barrack's Row. More information is posted on their website.
Whenever we venture into this part of town, my husband and I iterate that it feels like we have entered a different city. In fact, Capitol Hill is one of the oldest and largest residential neighborhoods in Washington, DC. There are many reasons, several within a few blocks of the Eastern Market Metro station, why families love living there. And while they might have less reason to justify bargain shopping in other parts of town, we look forward to returning to the Hill again to discover what more there is to see and do with kids in Washington, DC.