It’s almost dizzying – all of those people perusing baskets full of just-picked leafy greens, plates of freshly baked goods and stacks of wood-fired pizzas, hot and melty, right out of the handcrafted, mobile oven.
Customers buy from and barter with farmers and artisans against a backdrop of live music, sunlight and laughter. Nearby patio seating offers perches from which to watch the hubbub.
“It’s just kind of a party on Thursday night,” said longtime South Perry resident Fred Christ. “There’s good energy. It’s very hip. People that used to make fun of me for living in this neighborhood, now they come to this neighborhood because it’s so cool.”
Thursdays in summer, South Perry is the place to be.
That’s when the friendly and eclectic neighborhood hosts its outdoor farmers market, drawing people from throughout Spokane and beyond to the east end of the lower South Hill.
People come for the fresh produce, face-painting, pizza and $2 pints. They linger over the conversation, dinner or, maybe, one more beer.
They usually don’t just shop and go.
“People come to hang out,” said Mika Maloney, owner of Batch Bakeshop and board president for Thursday Market in the South Perry District. “They make a night of it or an afternoon of it.”
This is the start of Maloney’s third season as a vendor at the popular year-round market, which moves outside and extends its hours in May, remaining en plein air through October.
During those six months, the market is one of the neighborhood’s biggest attractions, embodying summer and the spirit of community – and bringing in more than 3,000 patrons per day at the height of the season, according to market manager Karyna Hamilton.
“People come from all over,” Hamilton said. “You get people from the Valley. You get people from the north” – and, sometimes, as far away as Metaline Falls.
“What is so magical about it is all these people coming together that wouldn’t meet anywhere else but the market,” Hamilton said. “It brings people together that wouldn’t necessarily be together.”
And it’s popular. Last summer’s sales were up by about a third, Hamilton said. She’s expecting them to increase even more this season, which started two weeks earlier this year.
The outdoor Thursday Market opened on May 8 with arugula and asparagus, cattails and nettles. It will transition to rhubarb, then raspberries, and end with apples. In between, there’s goat meat, raw honey, organic eggs, fresh herbs, spices, handmade soap and so much more.
But, with about two dozen vendors these days, the outdoor Thursday Market isn’t quite in full swing. By height of the season, in July and August, some 45 vendors will sell their wares.
“Vendors will keep trucking in,” Maloney said. “It gets busy. It’s exciting. It’s really bustling and fun.”
Thursday Market is less of an errand to run and more of an activity to enjoy, a destination versus a chore. It’s a place, Maloney said, where “people really connect. People build relationships with the vendors. They interact more. I shop at some of the other farmers markets, but it’s more like you go and shop and leave.”
In South Perry, Maloney said, people stay longer.
“I really think the fact that it is so busy draws more people,” Hamilton said. “All the restaurants are full. They do specials to cater to the market. So it is busy. It is joyful. It reminds me of sitting at a very large table with all of your favorite people in the world, and everyone passing bread and touching hands.”
The atmosphere is vibrant and upbeat in a sort of folklife-festival- meets-street-fair kind of way.
Both Hamilton and Maloney point to the variety and quality of goods and vendors as well as diverse customer base, which includes proprietors of neighborhood eateries like Casper Fry, which celebrates its second anniversary this month.
“I’m out there every Thursday buying bags and bags of green beans and carrots and flowers,” said Deb Green, who owns the restaurant with her son and daughter, Ben Poffenroth and Megan Van Stone. “We buy our honey out there. We buy all of our seasonal vegetables out there. Whatever we go out there and find on Thursday gets incorporated into our market special for the week.”
Plus, she said, “People come into Casper Fry for a drink or to get something to eat with their bags of produce that they bought at the market.”
Thursday Market, started in 2006, is only one reason to stop in South Perry, which has been undergoing quite a renaissance – particularly in the past five years.
Recent streetscape improvements on South Perry between Ninth and 12th avenues – paid for through a mix of mostly state and federal dollars – include benches, bus shelters, trees and traffic-calming measures like curb bump-outs.
Trendy shops, restaurants and bars have been steadily moving in. The most recent, Perry Street Brewing, opened in March. It was preceded by its neighbor, Wollnick’s General Store, a higher-end housewares retailer, in 2013. The Lantern and South Perry Pizza opened in 2009.
Since then, Green said, South Perry “has become a Portland-ish neighborhood where people are out and they’re walking. It’s a hub. It’s a destination. We’re drawing customers from all over town and Idaho.”
Of the neighborhood’s growth, Maloney said, “It’s kind of chicken-and-eggy. I think the market had a hand in helping the development.”
The neighborhood’s revitalization also helped build the market, she said, adding, “The Shop was like the anchor.”
The outdoor Thursday Market is held in the parking lot of The Shop, where pints cost $2 all day on “Thirsty Thursdays.” The café opened in 1999 in an old gas station in what was once described as a “beleaguered” neighborhood.
When Christ, 50, moved to South Perry in 1990, “It was mellow.” There was a coffee shop, supermarket and video store – and that’s about all.
Now, Christ describes the neighborhood in a word: “alive” – especially during the outdoor farmers market.
“It took a long time, and then it happened very fast,” he said. “I just had to get used to it.”
Christ said he embraces the changes, which have brought increased foot and vehicle traffic to his once un-hip ’hood.
“I used to go downtown a lot, and now I don’t,” he said. “I still like downtown, but I don’t hang out downtown.”
Rather, he hangs out at The Shop and The Lantern and his “new favorite” place: Wisconsinburger, which opened on South Hatch Street in April.
“It’s just grown a ton,” said Seth Carey, who moved to South Perry from Seattle in 2008.
A year later, he started Veraci Pizza Spokane, a wood-fired pizza cart business that has become a favorite fixture at Thursday Market.
“It feels like a neighborhood that wants to be a community, if that makes any sense,” he said. “You run into tons of people that you know.”
Tarawyn Waters, who owns Spokane’s Urban Eden Farms with partner Jim Schrock, doesn’t live in South Perry. This is their first full season selling produce at Thursday Market, and they are impressed with the neighborhood.
“It’s got a groove on,” Waters said. “It’s super-cool. I look around and I feel happy. I feel like this is a success-story neighborhood.”