WENATCHEE — Pybus Public Market finally became a functioning reality Saturday after nearly two years in the planning and a flurry of round-the-clock finish work to get many, though not all, of the permanent vendor shops open.
“I think it’s beautiful. I’m so excited about this,” said Jennifer Stendera, who pushed a stroller with her two young children through the indoor portion of the market while shops were still opening early Saturday. Her husband and another youngster were out combing the farmers market outside the building for garden produce.
“We moved here from Seattle just six years ago and loved the Pike Place Market. I’ve been waiting for this to open,” Stendera said.
The airplane hangar-sized market overlooking the Columbia River does have that Pike Place Market feel — a place where fresh food, artistic endeavors and health-minded people meet and mingle. Saturday, giant fans stirred the air from the tall ceilings. A musician played folk songs from an indoor-outdoor stage. Artichokes as big as volleyballs and bunches of newly cut asparagus were neatly stacked next to apples and oranges at the busy Auvil Fruit stand. People lined up for coffee and pastries at Ruby Marz Bakery. Frank St. Dennis, owner and chef at Pybus Bistro, waxed his mustache for the occasion and scurried around his open-air kitchen preparing for the restaurant and wine bar’s first customers.
“It will be more like a party than formal serving today,” he said.
Saturday was billed as a soft opening with only about half of the shops fully up and running in the huge, 65-year-old refurbished building. Still, the excitement among a bustling crowd of shoppers, scurrying shop owners and friendly farmers market vendors was palpable. Crowds in shorts, T-shirts and tank tops strolled outside among the rows of market stalls to buy bunches of fresh arugula, flowers, garden plant starts, homemade barbecue sauce and fresh baked bread. It’s still early in the farmers market season, but vendors were energized to finally have a place to roost.
“We finally get to settle down and relax a little. It feels good,” said Keisha Engley, Wenatchee Valley Farmers Market manager. The market has moved from one temporary spot to another for years with only hopes of one day having a permanent home. An indoor farmers market shop will sell locally produced food year-round, in addition to the seasonal outdoor market Wednesdays and Saturdays.
“Finally, we won’t have to worry about towing cars and drunks from a nearby bar. This is a much better atmosphere for vendors and customers,” she said, referring to troublesome previous market locations.
“After 40 years of farmers marketing I’ve never been so excited,” said Scott Parsons, who with his wife, Ruth, sells homemade bread, pizza crusts and cookies from their Artisan Bread Co. He started a thriving farmers market in Minnesota in the 1970s, but it’s taken time for it to take hold here. The market creates a sustainable place where people can come and meet the people who grow and make their food. “A rising tide floats all boats,” he said of the environment where many sellers collaborate rather than compete.
People continued to arrive throughout the day to check out the market. Lines formed at Rivet, Anjou Bakery’s espresso and pastry shop in a vintage Airstream trailer on the north side of the market. Prospective clients checked out the cool cruiser bikes that can be rented to ride on the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail.
Still to open are two shops created by Visconti’s Restaurant. Ice, a gelato shop, will open next weekend. Fire — where woodfire-baked pizza, artisan meats and cheeses and wine will be served — will open in about two weeks, said Visconti’s co-owner Dan Carr. South, the popular Leavenworth Central American restaurant and bar, should be open by next week. Mike’s Meats is shooting to open by June 1. Lighting of the impressive Public Market sign south of the building will be put off until May 18 due to some wiring issues.
The $9 million project is certainly one of the region’s most ambitious commercial developments and one that promises to trigger more commerce and recreation along the valley’s Columbia River waterfront. The Port of Chelan County bought the old Pybus building — built as a steel fabrication plant — in 2010. Mike and JoAnn Walker, owners of the local Eagle Group transport companies, wanted to build something to help the riverfront area take off. They donated $2.7 million to their dream. The city of Wenatchee came up with another $1.4 million. The building’s 20 permanent shopowners have invested their own funds in a dream they acknowledge will likely have its challenges during winter months.
“It feels really good,” said Steve Robinson, the market’s executive director, tired yet as exhilarated as a Broadway show producer on opening night. Robinson said he hoped to have more restaurants open this weekend, but a more gradual opening is not a bad thing.
“We were really racing at the end. We’ve had people working day and night. It’s been more than a job for them. They knew they were building a piece of history,” Robinson said about the contractor — Blodgett Construction Co. — and many subcontractors and employees. “It’s been a labor of love.”
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151