The Washington Market, built in 1911, was a clothing store before turning over to groceries around 1914. Typical of the era, space was leased to a mix of independent dealers selling meat, produce, dairy and other specialties, such as tea and coffee, or candy.
Awnings were extended over outdoor stalls of fruits and vegetables on the sidewalks when the weather allowed.
Italian American immigrants played a large role in the Washington Market and the entire food industry in Spokane. Anthony Caputo, born in Italy around 1875, was one of the first fruit and vegetable sellers. He had two other locations before setting up at the Washington Market. Friends say he worked 20 hours a day in the early years, at least until he had to hire help. During his business career, imported produce from California became the norm for Spokane. He also imported pasta and olive oils. Caputo died in 1949.
Two other Italian families established themselves at the Washington Market. Around 1927, Frank Orsi opened a grocery stand in the market. Frank Pupo, along with brothers Gene and Gabriel, sold fruits and vegetables and took a spot in the market in 1937. Pupo and Orsi partnered with meat dealer Chester Meeker, in the market since 1926, to buy the building in 1948.
Despite the trend toward supermarket chains and suburban stores, the Washington Market survived through the 1960s, serving a dwindling downtown population. The upstairs of the market served as a meeting hall for fraternal organizations and as a dance hall over the years.
The extended family of the Pupo brothers went on to operate Pupo’s Restaurant and Pupo’s Produce, a wholesale supplier, which later became part of Charlie’s Produce. Frank Pupo died in 1962.
Frank Orsi passed away in 1958, but had bought out the building’s partners. Frank’s son Geno Orsi converted the building into a supermarket operation in 1969. He renamed it Gino’s World Food Mart and carried international specialty foods. Orsi sold the business around 1975, but not the building, which was destroyed in a three-alarm fire in 1978.
Geno Orsi built a modern, one-story retail space for a new store, Gino’s Import Foods, which lasted until 1984. Geno Orsi passed away in 2001.
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