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Spokane Public Market to close amid flagging sales

Vladimir Kuzmenko, who operates a fruit stand at the Spokane Public Market, examines an apple Friday at the market downtown. Kuzmenko, whose primary business is a wholesale fruit operation called Kay Enterprises, said of his emptying fruit boxes, “I sell some, but I don’t keep them here because I don’t know what will happen.” (Tyler Tjomsland)
Vladimir Kuzmenko, who operates a fruit stand at the Spokane Public Market, examines an apple Friday at the market downtown. Kuzmenko, whose primary business is a wholesale fruit operation called Kay Enterprises, said of his emptying fruit boxes, “I sell some, but I don’t keep them here because I don’t know what will happen.” (Tyler Tjomsland)

The high hopes and efforts to establish a vibrant and lasting public market in downtown Spokane have failed.

The Spokane Public Market, which opened in June 2011, will close next Saturday because of lackluster business.

“If you don’t have vendors, you don’t have customers. If you don’t have customers, you don’t have vendors,” said Dennis Frederick, market manager.

The market’s board hasn’t given up on the idea of a bustling public market. It hopes to regroup and try again, Frederick said.

Having a public market can be an asset to a community by creating a focal point for local food producers to draw in shoppers and visitors, he said.

When it opened in an old brick warehouse at Second Avenue and Browne Street, the market was succeeding.

Several vendors on Friday said they made money back then.

“I was very successful the first year and a half, and then it just kind of dwindled,” said Jessica McFarland, owner of Natural Start, a coffee and tea booth.

Frederick said a number of problems have been apparent in recent months.

The region’s sluggish economy kept business from growing and the parking outside the entrance is a paid lot. Older customers shied away because of a high number of transients in the area, Frederick said, and grants that were expected to help fund the effort never materialized.

RenCorp, the property owner, had tried to work with the market to keep it open, Frederick said, but the lease arrangement had terms the market cannot meet.

A news story in 2011 indicated that the market took a 15-year lease with a goal of purchasing the building in 2014.

Corporate sponsor flags hang inside the market identifying companies that helped support the market, but those sponsorships were not enough, McFarland said.

David Ainley, the Scone Ranger, said he established a loyal customer base at the market and those people have continued to support him despite the hard times.

He said he hopes to move his scone business to a new location.

“We will be somewhere,” he said.

Jerry Huston said that trying to draw local growers to a market that has been open four days a week has been a tough sell. Most growers are more comfortable spending one day a week at a market.

Huston said he shifted his business away from produce to non-perishable items over the years.

Amanda Meyer and Monique Romero, co-workers, have been frequent customers, dropping by for lunch to get something besides fast food, they said.

“It’s nice to have something fresh,” Meyer said. “It’s been a nice place to have.”



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