by Pia K. Hansen
The good news is that the Spokane MarketPlace on Ruby and Desmet is open and is going to remain open all summer. The bad news is that its lease is up in the air again.
Two years ago, in May of 1999, the MarketPlace announced its relocation to an old building near Gonzaga University under much fanfare -- especially since the new space came with a 10-year lease.
"We were all very excited," says Jackie Rappe, the director of the MarketPlace, "but the lease isn't valid anymore, since the owner of the building couldn't fulfill his part of the deal."
The owner, Jim Delegance, had plans to develop condominiums or business spaces in the top floors of the old brick building overlooking downtown, and to let the MarketPlace occupy the street level -- but none of that has happened. Delegance did not return calls asking for a comment on the situation.
At the market's current address, there are two buildings in a row facing Desmet. The MarketPlace occupies the building closest to Ruby, which is owned, not by Delegance, but by Spokane Market Equipment. However, this was only meant to be a temporary location while Delegance fixed up his neighboring building so the MarketPlace could move in there.
Nothing has happened in Delegance's building -- where it rains through the roof in the back part -- but the MarketPlace has no choice but to move in there, since Spokane Market Equipment now needs its space back.
"Market Equipment has been so good to us, they've let us stay out of the goodness of their hearts. We were never supposed to stay here for this long, but Jim [Delegance] hasn't been able to find a lender that'll get in on his project," says Rappe. "He tells me he is working with another lender right now, but as we speak, we have no lease contract with anybody."
The MarketPlace fixed up the hall it's in right now, with Spokane Market Equipment paying for some of the restoration and lots and lots of volunteer hours. But now the roving band of independent merchants has to start over again.
"When we moved in here, we knew there were going to be some challenges, but we never expected to end up in this situation [without a lease] again," says Rappe.
And it's a familiar situation indeed. Up until finding this location, the MarketPlace moved every two years. First, the MarketPlace moved from its location on Division and Riverside (the building and the land was taken over by the Riverpoint Higher Education Park, but has yet to be converted to another use). Then it moved from its location in Riverfront Park by the Flour Mill, where vendors weren't allowed to sell ready-to-eat food within the park. From there, it was on to Jefferson and First, but that building was torn down to make room for KHQ-TV's new building.
"That's been our downfall, that we have moved every two years," says Rappe. "Part of me is very discouraged. I sometimes ask myself if I'm doing something wrong."
Rappe has worked tirelessly on keeping the market afloat through all its ups and downs, but some vendors didn't agree with the way she was running things.
So around the same time as the MarketPlace's last relocation, a group of farmers got together and created a new market in Spokane. The Spokane Farmer's Market is located outdoors, in a parking lot next to the First Covenant Church, downtown at Division and Second streets. It'll open for its third season on May 19.
This market is a producers only market, where local farmers sell only what they grow -- or what they have made from the crop they grow -- but there are no imported trinkets or kitchen knife sales people. Last year, 35 local growers sold their crop at the Farmers' Market -- this Saturday, the Spokane MarketPlace had 28 vendors.
"It makes no sense having two markets struggling side by side in a town this size," says Rappe, who adds that there has been no talk of joining forces. "Some vendors sell at both places, and I think shoppers go to both places."
She says she plans to approach Mayor John Powers to get support from the city to find a location to grow into, but has yet to do so.
Powers seems eager to work with Rappe. "In my mind, farmers markets are one example of social capital which links people together in successful communities," he says. "It's a part of a vital and connected community, and the city is certainly willing to work with the private sector in an attempt to find a new, permanent home for the MarketPlace."
Off the top of his head, one facility that may work out is the Parks Department's old facility on North Washington, which is now being vacated. "The MarketPlace may want to approach the Park Board about that spot," says Powers.
For now, the MarketPlace will only move next door, and most shoppers probably won't even notice the difference in addresses. But they'll notice the difference in the space: a bare concrete floor and gray walls, with limited natural light, will replace the tall oak beams, wooden floor, big windows and whitewashed walls of the current space.
Some have raised questions about the sanitary standards of the new rooms, especially the one where it rains through the roof.
Rappe says there is cold and hot water -- and bathrooms -- in the main room, and that the individual market stalls can get power (for refrigeration or cooking) through the floor from the basement.
The back room with the leaky roof would be used for plant sales only. She's also hoping to include vendors with fresh, organic meat and fish as soon as possible.
The Spokane MarketPlace also depends economically on a permanent location. Rappe says there are grants available for markets if they have a permanent spot. In cities like Portland and Seattle, the public markets are public-private entities with the financial security that comes with that. And, Seattle's Pike Place Market and Portland's Saturday Market are major people-magnets for the two downtowns. Seattle's market is now world-famous, but it was only in the 1960s that citizens had to fight a movement to raze the whole thing in the name of public progress. In Spokane, there has been no organized movement to get a public market on firmer footing.
Donations and volunteers are falling to the wayside, too, as once again the future of the market is looking bleak.
"We need a janitor, and we have three vacant positions on the board, plus we need a treasurer," says Rappe. "I understand if people don't want to contribute large amounts to us anymore. But I still believe there are people out there who care about the MarketPlace. I still believe we'll make it."