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Public Market looks to expand

It’s been nearly three years since the McMinnville Public Market opened its weekly Saturday run, and Manager Shannon Thorson believes it’s ready to expand to a five-day, Tuesday-through-Saturday schedule.

Thorson said three vendors, the Shaggy Showers Dog Wash and Incredible India and Chicken Coop food carts, are already operating on the new, expanded schedule.

She is also eyeing expansion into new ventures.

In March, the market plans to start a new business, Urban Farm & Flowers, catering to backyard gardeners. By next October, it intends to establish a farmer’s co-op to supply fresh fruits and vegetables as well.

“We feel like our locals are looking for high quality organic produce,” Thorson said, which she views as an essential element of a five-day-a-week operation.

She said individual farmers aren’t able to man a stand all week long, which is why she’s proposing a co-op structure. By rotating the duty, local farmers could make it work, she said.

Thorson is currently recruiting for someone to organize and oversee the co-op. She said getting someone on board now would give him or her time to shop around the state and nation, confer with the full range of local stakeholders and develop a plan capable of drawing broad support.

“We’ve established our sea legs, and a vision for how the market can be viable long-term,” she said. She sees two things driving the business — growing bases of both tourists and residents interested in building their diet around locally grown food.

Thorson said the McMinnville Public Market is the only indoor, year-round facility of its type in Oregon. But nationally, she said, there has been a resurgence in community markets. She said it’s based on a renewed interest in supporting local production, whether food, arts and crafts items or other goods.

She said the market’s clientele is about half local and half out of town. And she said more than half the out-of-towners are from elsewhere in Oregon.

“There’s an incredible interest in ... the carbon footprint we exert, and how our purchasing effects our environment,” she said. And she said that is fueling a trend to more localized buying.

When it comes to developing a full-time community market locally, “There is no model to follow,” she said. “We have to create our own model.”

In part, she said, she’s taking a “Field of Dreams” approach. “Since day one, we believed if we build it, they will come,” she said.

Thorson said one thing the market has going for it is the length of its busy season. She said, “We anticipated three to four months of peak season, but we have an eight- to nine-month season.”

She said business slacks off only during the summer months. It picks back up in the fall and remains strong through May, she said.

Having a covered facility makes that possible, she said.

Thorson sees the market having two main roles. One is to be an authentic and effective local market that nurtures and supports start-up businesses and the second is to be a viable tourist destination highlighting extraordinary local fare.

On average, the market has 50 vendors on a given Saturday. She said arts, crafts and local produce are all big draws.

“We’re increasingly working to improve the level of goods at the market,” she said. “We’re finding that folks will absolutely pay for quality goods. That’s what they want.”

She said the market continues to actively recruit those who share its vision. It’s an opportunity, she added, to start a small business with a lease that includes amenities such as restrooms, Wi-Fi and electricity.

Thorson cited Ruby Cakes as one of its success stories. She said it started as a market vendor and established enough of a base to justify opening its own bakery.

“We’re a fantastic place for startups,” she said.

For more information, contact Thorson at 503-550-3916 or shthorson@gmail.com.
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Public Market looks to expand

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