During and after the period of Jewish predominance, the area was colloquially known as “Jew Town.” Although there were many fine stationary department stores located there, the area’s most notable feature was its open air market, which was the precursor to the flea market scene in Chicago. One could almost buy anything there, legal and illegal. The old Chicago Police Academy on O’Brien Street was adjacent to it.
In need of jobs and quick cash, fledgling entrepreneurs came to Maxwell Street – many say it was the largest open-air market in the country – to earn their livelihood. From clothes, to produce, to cars, appliances, tools, and virtually anything anyone might want, Maxwell Street offered discount items to consumers and was an economic hub for poor people looking to get ahead. This milieu of culture and ethnicity was a distinctly American phenomenon. Maxwell Street has been called the Ellis Island of the Midwest.
In 1994, the Maxwell Street Market was moved by the City of Chicago to accommodate expansion of the University of Illinois at Chicago. It was relocated a few blocks east to Canal Street. Since the move, it is sometimes called the New Maxwell Street Market.
I’m told its a shadow of its former, wild, chaotic glory.