Located within downtown Omaha, Nebraska, the Old Market neighborhood is a historic retail district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, featuring upscale shopping and dining options within a turn-of-the-century environment with brick-paved streets, horse-drawn carriages, and street performers and vendors.
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The area that now encompasses Omaha, Nebraska was the traditional home of several indigenous North American tribes, including the Ioway, Pawnee, Otoe, and Sioux tribes, who comprised the Omaha Nation by the early 19th century. European settlement of the area began with the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804, with the Corps of Discovery establishing a campsite near the present-day city of Bellevue and noting exploration of sites located within the present-day bounds of downtown Omaha and meetings with Otoe tribal leadership. Four million acres of the Omaha Nation’s tribal land was sold to the United States in 1854, allowing for the establishment and settlement of the Nebraska Territory. Omaha City was established the same year, retaining use in its naming of the Sioux word meaning “dwellers on the bluff.”
The city was chosen as the territory’s capital and saw expansion throughout the late 19th century with the advent of transcontinental railroad development, which aided the city’s development as a major transportation hub of the American Great Plains. Many of the buildings of the Old Market district, which spans from South 10th to 13th Streets to the east and west and Farnam and Jackson Streets to the north and south, were constructed throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1979, the Old Market neighborhood was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, ensuring preservation of its historic buildings and landmarks.
Today, Omaha’s Old Market district retains much of its late 19th century appearance, featuring cobblestone streets and brick buildings with cast-iron facades and stone trim. Metal sidewalk coverings still remain along some buildings, along with horse-drawn carriages available for rides, embarking from the intersection of Howard and 11th Streets. Street musicians, performers, and artists are commonly found throughout the neighborhood at all times of the year, and many buildings feature public art and sculptures.
The district’s plentiful restaurants, breweries, and bars make it a bustling nightlife spot. Live nightlife entertainment is offered at Backline Comedy Theatre, which showcases stand-up comedy, improv, and sketch comedy shows, and the Dubliner Pub, which hosts live Irish folk musicians on select nights. During the day, visitors can shop the district’s wide variety of boutiques, with many featuring vintage, local, or unique items, and stop in at the coffee shops and bakeries. Unique retail attractions include the historic Hollywood Candy and Fairmont Mercantile, a homemade and retro candy store, antique store, toy store, print shop, old-fashioned diner, and classic movie theater all in one. The diner, called the Fairmont Diner, features a classic soda fountain, ice cream specialties, and other classic diner fare, while the movie theater, the Hollywood Theater, hosts free weekend showings and is available for rentals.
The district is also home to nine arts galleries, all open to the public. Several arts cooperatives showcase the work of local artists, including the Artists’ Cooperative Gallery, which has been open since 1975, highlights more than 35 local artists with displays that change monthly as the artists create new works. The Old Market Artists Gallery features works in a variety of media, including glasswork and jewelry, from 12 artisans, while the Passageway Gallery showcases 24 local artists working in mediums such as watercolor and woodcarving. Housed in three refurbished warehouses, Kaneko’s gallery spaceis also dedicated to exploring creativity across disciplines, with new works displayed on a continuing basis.
A number of galleries feature the work of artists from beyond Omaha, including the Anderson O’Brien Fine Arts Gallery, which houses new works from Midwest regional artists and offers design and appraisal services. The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts takes an international focus, hosting an internationally-acclaimed artist-in-residency program creating new and innovative works and offering educational community outreach programming. The MANGELSEN Images of Nature Gallery features the work of celebrated wildlife and nature photographer Thomas D. Mangelsen, while the White Crane Gallery features curated American artworks from local and national artists.
Ongoing Programs and Events
Once a month, the district’s art galleries host First Fridays, a free evening event featuring live music, opening receptions for new collections, and a chance to meet and greet with gallery artists. Transportation between the district’s venues is provided for free on Omaha’s traditional trolley, Ollie the Trolley.Annual public special event programming also includes the annual Summer Arts Festival, showcasing the works of over 100 artists every June, along with live music and a children’s activity area. In December, ice skating and caroling are offered throughout the district as part of Omaha’s annual city-wide holiday celebration.
PO Box 8733, Omaha, NE 68108, Phone: 402-916-1796