In July 1991, Jackie Rappe filled in as manager of the Spokane MarketPlace for a weekend when the former director quit.
On her first day, a strong wind left everything at the farmer’s market covered in dust, and the vendors weren’t getting along. Rappe rolled up her sleeves and went to work.
“The first weekend turned into the second weekend. By the end of July, I was bitten by the MarketPlace bug. It was a challenge. I didn’t want to leave,” said Rappe, 55.
Now the one-time temporary director is poised to lead the MarketPlace to its permanent home.
The MarketPlace opened Saturday at First and Jefferson, with 25 vendors. The 24,000-square-foot former car dealership building that will house the market wasn’t ready yet, so vendors set up shop on Jefferson Street.
“We have a one-year lease with a five-year option. We’re used to being month-to-month. We know we’ll be here a year, and we’re planning on being here 20,” Rappe said.
Her devotion to the MarketPlace is as obvious as the beads around her neck, the watch circling her wrist and the broach on her lapel. All were made by MarketPlace craft vendors she’s met over the years.
“There would be no MarketPlace if it weren’t for Jackie,” said Tom Culbertson, president of the board of directors. “Her undying loyalty and persistence is the reason we have a MarketPlace. She’s been the one who has really carried it.”
Rappe has seen the MarketPlace through success, when the number of vendors at Riverside and Division peaked at 82, and disappointment, when the MarketPlace lost that lease, moved to Riverfront Park and attendance dropped by 40 percent.
Now, there’s the prospect of a permanent home.
Rappe has lofty dreams for the new building, which comprises three 8,000-square-foot bays with adjoining entrances. She wants to knock down walls to create a double entrance from the west side parking lot. She hopes to add permanent vendors who pay monthly rent. And she’d like to incorporate the block of Jefferson from First to Sprague into the market.
“I imagine all that asphalt gone and cobblestone streets, with fruit vendors and music,” Rappe said.
But daily challenges keep Rappe grounded in reality. Two weeks of work are necessary to bring the building up to code. Water and sewer lines are broken, paint is chipped and windows are shattered.
“We’re just trying to get this cleaned up and safe,” she said.
Two weeks ago, volunteers from the surrounding West First neighborhood pitched in to help clean up the building. The support she’s felt from the neighborhood helped convince Rappe the building would be the market’s new home.
“We’ve really felt wanted in that neighborhood. That continues to surprise me. The unanimous support is overwhelming,” Rappe said.
Rappe initially was nervous about the location because of the neighborhood’s reputation for crime. But meetings with community-oriented police put her and vendors at ease when they learned about how the neighborhood had been cleaned up.
“It didn’t take long to convince me that it was safe to be there,” she said.
After all the work Rappe has done to support neighborhoods, being part of one is gratifying, she said. Before starting with the MarketPlace, Rappe was a neighborhood coordinator for Northwest Regional Facilitators. She was with NRF for 13 years, helping secure community development grants for needy areas.
Her boss, Bob Stilger, then president of the MarketPlace’s board of directors, was the one who asked Rappe to fill in as manager on that dusty July weekend.
Managing a farmer’s market is like coming full circle for Rappe, who grew up on a farm in Minnesota. She’d decided to become a missionary when she moved to Spokane in 1959 as a parish worker for the Lutheran Church.
Three years later, she’d met and married Don Rappe and their first daughter, Denise, was on the way. Two of the couple’s three children work with her husband at the family business, Alpine Construction.
Rappe’s daughter, Julie, is also an artist and sells her paintings and photographs in the MarketPlace.
With a permanent, year-round location, Rappe expects farmers to expand their inventory, offering more fruits and vegetables in the fall, such as pumpkins, squash and apples.
There’s also talk among the farmers of operating a cooperative greenhouse to stock the market year-round.
“We have lots of ideas, but no money,” Rappe said. The market is solely funded by the vendors, who pay $20 per day for their booths. Rappe is working with others to apply for federal and state grants to pay for the myriad of projects on the table.
“I just take each day and think what is the most important thing to get accomplished on this particular day,” Rappe said. “Otherwise, you could be overwhelmed with all these challenges.”
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