Grange proves a hit with vendors, shoppers
“I’m excited to be here,” said vendor David Kellner-Rode. “I’m really liking the feel here.” And pointing at the grove of towering Douglas firs behind him, he noted, “This forest is amazing.”
“Every one of us is tickled to be here,” said Carol Harroun of Carlton’s Blue Acres Farm. “The atmosphere here is perfect. We’re getting foot traffic and seeing new faces as well as familiar ones.”
Termination of their agreement with the Granary District for use of an 8,000-square-foot warehouse and adjacent outdoor facilities led the vendors to search for a new location.
While the largest portion opted for an affiliation with agriculturally oriented McMinnville Grange #31, market founder and manager Shannon Thorson was put off by its less than central location.
Intent on a way to continue drawing downtown foot traffic, she opted to rent the 19-space parking facility below the old Physicians Medical Center clinic as a temporary solution. Now owned by Yamhill County, and used to house county offices, the former clinic is located at the corner of Fifth and Davis streets.
By the time Thorson worked out her $50-a-week terms, the bulk of the vendors had already opted for the Grange site. As a result, she was able to line up only a handful of vendors, and traffic was light.
“I understand their situation,” she said of the vendors who broke away. “It’s unfortunate it worked out this way.”
Though the vendors making the move to the southerly site waxed enthusiastic, Thorson said she still thinks the market needs to find a long-range home somewhere in the downtown area.
While her initial test run at Fifth and Davis was less successful, Thorson said she is determined to persevere while she continues a search for more suitable permanent quarters.
“In terms of an outdoor space, the underground spot has cool features,” she said. “In the summer, it’s protected from the heat. And the rest of the year, it’s protected from the rain.”
Thorson said she’s not ready to abandon her vision. She said she’s still hoping to establish a regional market serving as a major tourist attraction and important business incubator.
“I think the community needs one unified Saturday market,” she said. “The vision is to be a premiere market on the West Coast, and we were on that road.”
While the Grange has a pleasant setting, it lacks the downtown accessibility to become a major tourism draw, she said. In the long run, she said, “The answer isn’t a little market at the Grange — or one in a parking lot.”
The Grange contingent, however, feels it has found a viable long-term home. Grange member Myrt Powers, who is managing the enterprise for now, said plans call for addition of more booths and additional picnic tables to take maximum advantage of the setting and facilities.
Vendor Cindy Whitlock, of Peavine Road’s Mountain Jewel Farm, expressed sympathy for Thorson’s situation.
But she said the vendors needed to decide on their own what would be best for their own individual fortunes. And while they loved their former Granary District venue, with its downtown accessibility, they are also happy with their new venue, she said.
They seemed cheerful and optimistic about their new location, by and large. So did their steady stream of customers, lured by the prospect of fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs and other farm fare.
Harroun said she contacted 27 of her key regular customers to let them know where they could find her Saturday, and that really paid off.
“This opportunity at the Grange was a life saver for my business,” she said. “I have to support my farm. We rely on that income.”
She said McMinnville’s #31 is the longest running, continuously operating Grange in the state, making it a perfect fit for people making their livelihood off the land.
“The Grange is an appropriate place for this kind of thing,” she said. “After all, the Grange is an old-time gathering place for farmers.”
Whitlock was the vendor who considered the idea of approaching the Grange.
“We were told it could be a while before we could relocate, and people were worried about not having a place to go,” she said. So she joined with the Dennisons in making the approach, and it quickly took root.
“It feels fantastic here,” Whitlock said. “The goal is for this to become a year-round market.”
She said vendors are already chatting about how they can decorate the inside for the holidays, when weather makes outdoor vending problematic.
Nancy Cunningham of Great Harvest Bread also made the move to the Grange.
She said she loved her original Granary District digs, but was able to expand her offerings at the Grange to include soups, salads and sandwiches. She termed that a big plus.
Margaret Ottele said the word that came first to her mind was “kismet,” meaning fate or destiny.
“When one door closes, another one opens,” she said. And she said a door had opened at the Grange Hall.
Ossie Bladine contributed to this story.