Kansas City's River Market district offers international pleasures

Visiting Kansas City's River Market feels like a quick stroll around the globe.

The U-shaped City Market, central to the district, not only houses the 150-year-old farmers market on weekends but the Blue Nile Café with Ethiopian dishes, the Middle Eastern Al Habashi Mart and Carollo’s Italian Grocery and Deli.

There’s also a world of interesting goods for the home: kitchenware from Asian markets and Index Restaurant Supply, stylish plant containers from Dutch Flowers and international banners at All Nations Flag. You never know what else you might find.

“Ever heard of a baby minder?” asks Robert Eppes, owner of Silk Road Travelers, a Chinese furniture and antiques store on Delaware Street. “Not many people have.”

Eppes explains these small barrels were “baby sitters” in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They were made with openings so the child could watch his mom or dad work. The floors were slatted and covered with a blanket for warmth; sometimes they were heated with charcoal. The baby minders have been converted into tables, he says — a definite conversation piece for dinner parties.

Eppes opened the boutique with family friend Pamela Johnson at 8:08 a.m. Aug. 8, 2008, with lots of ceremony, including dragon dancers and martial artists. They chose the River Market — bounded by the bluffs on the west, the Missouri River on the north, Cherry Street on the east and Independence Avenue on the south — because of its diversity and potential for growth.

For similar reasons, Janet O’ Toole and her fiancé, Stephen Zaragoza, opened Bloom Bakery in the City Market earlier this year. They specialize in artisan bread, cakes and pastries. But the store also sells charming market bags, tea towels and bamboo cutting boards, as well as cake stands O’Toole made by repurposing plates and candlesticks. Baked goods are made with flour from Stafford County Flour Mills of Hudson, Kan.

“I grew up a farm girl in north-central Kansas, so I knew I’d feel comfortable around all the farmers in the City Market,” O’Toole said. “I’ve met them and lots of loft owners and downtown businesspeople. What I didn’t realize is that there would be so many tourists here visiting the Steamboat Arabia and the shops.”

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