The market was originally established in 1918 on land cleared by the Great Atlanta fire of 1917. The market, set up in a huge tent, was an immediate success, bringing urban consumers direct access to farmers and their products. Wishing to give the curb market a more permanent home, the Atlanta Woman's Club raised money for a fireproof brick and concrete building which opened on May 1, 1924, and was called the Municipal Market of Atlanta. At the time, it was located in the exact geographic center of Atlanta and quickly became "the place to shop" for every Atlantan. At that time, Atlanta was still living under racial segregation and whites shopped inside the market while blacks were only permitted to shop from stalls lining the curb. The market's current name reflects that era.
Today the market welcomes all people and caters to business people, downtown and intown residents, as well as students from nearby Georgia State University. It is a favorite shopping place for family occasions and holiday meals – attracting shoppers from all over the state who are looking for specialty items sold at the market, such as chitterlings and collard greens. Vendors within the market are individually owned businesses and offer goods including meat, fish, baked goods, vegetables, fruit, nuts, coffee, flowers, plants, Caribbean groceries, prescription medication and more. Additionally, there are many restaurants located in the market, including several that have gone on to start stand-alone restaurants, such as Grindhouse Killer Burgers and Bell Street Burritos. The Market is seen by some as a place to incubate a small business.
The market operates as a nonprofit enterprise, with the building leased from the City of Atlanta and the individual vendors sub-leasing. The market underwent a renovation in the 1990s. Outside the main entrance stand two large sculptures by Atlanta artist Carl Joe Williams. The artwork was part of the city's Olympic Art Program, which coincided with the 1996 Summer Olympics, held in Atlanta.