Sunday is kick-off day for the Astoria Sunday Market, a colorful extravaganza of arts, crafts, food and entertainment that will energize downtown Astoria all summer long and into October.

The annual event has grown from a few tables and booths in 2000 to 204 vendor spaces this year. Now the second-largest outdoor market in the state, it took in $1.3 million in 2005. Only portland's is bigger.

People from Portland, Longview, Wash., and as far away as Hermiston join local residents, who set up booths along 12th Street, selling aprons, artwork, handmade soap, fresh fruits and vegetables, plants, wood carvings, gourmet sauces, artisanal cheese and bread, tie-dyed shirts, lampwork beads, photographs and just about anything else.

All of the products sold must be grown, picked or made by the vendors.

New this year are hand-dipped chocolates and "the best cheesecake I've ever tasted," says Joyce Compere, Astoria Sunday Market's executive director. Nearly 50 new vendors have been added, she says, including a "pet masseuse," who caters to aging and injured pets. "Pets have become so important in our society. They are welcome at our market," Compere says.

Twenty vendors will fill the international food court with offerings from the exotic to the familiar, including Cajun food, vegetarian items, flame-grilled sausages, Greek, Thai and Mexican cuisine, an assortment of seafood and plenty of hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, curly fries, popcorn and desserts.

With the food comes entertainment by local performers and bands, with quirky names like Brownsmead Flats, Floating Glass Balls, Salty Dogs, Bond Street Blues, Highway 30 and Columbia Crew.

Visitors throng marketThe majority of shoppers come from more than 50 miles away. Many stay at area hotels and patronize downtown businesses that are open on Sunday, and ride the Astoria Trolley to and from the market. There's plenty of free parking for the market, which runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Not only a destination for visitors, the Sunday Market has become a huge social event for local residents. "It's become our town square. People meet at the market," says Bill W. Dodge, who serves as vice-president on the nonprofit market's board of directors.

Dodge, a nationally known artist, has had a booth every year since the beginning, selling his colorful paintings and prints. This year he will have two booths and an expanded line of products, including mugs, mouse pads, tote bags, sweatshirts, magnets and bookmarks.

Dodge was one of the Sunday Market's pioneers, says Compere. "He started off with two pieces of chain-link fence that he had sort of bolted together, and he had a round table and an umbrella. And now he has two spaces and he does a fabulous display."

Dodge was already well-established, but a dozen or so other vendors got their start in business at the market and went on to open "brick-and-mortar" stores.

Compere says one of those success stories is Angela Coscia, who started out selling drinks, flavored lemonade, teas and lavender from a booth that consisted of an ironing board and a table cloth.

"And after a couple of years she came up with a really creative-looking stand. She was my first franchise at the Market. She actually rented a second space at the other end of the market and hired an employee to operate it for her. She still makes all the teas and lemonades herself - she just has somebody selling it for her at the other end," Compere says. "Her business experience with the market gave her the nerve to open up the Tiki Juice and Taco restaurant this year."

The 'showroom'Compere has been orchestrating the Astoria Sunday Market almost since its beginning. She has likened it to a "100-square-foot showroom," which stretches along 12th Street from Exchange Street to Marine Drive.

"This is going to be an absolutely super season. The vendors keep raising the benchmark every year," says the ever-upbeat Compere, whose office during the market is her "little tiny Toyota motor home," which she parks in the bus stop at 12th and Duane streets (permitted because the buses don't run on Sundays). It's a step up from the previous location - the elevator shaft at the nearby Liberty Theater. "We're a lean, mean machine," she says.

The Sunday Market's mission is to help revitalize downtown Astoria, and Compere pursues that mission with enthusiasm. She and her husband, John Compere, moved to Astoria 10 years ago, planning to retire. Instead, he took a job as associate director of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce and she won a seat on the Astoria City Council, in addition to taking on the Sunday Market challenge.

"I couldn't do retirement," she explains. After stepping down from the Chamber a year ago, John Compere has more time to assist his wife with the market.

"John works as my partner," Joyce Compere says. "He doesn't get a separate paycheck. They get a 'two-fer,'" she says. He also does the bookkeeping for the market, which had sales of $1.3 million in 2005, according to Dodge. Compere, who is paid 50 percent of gross revenue, was paid about $65,000 last year, says board president Bill Lind. "She gets the job done however she sees fit, with board oversight," he says. "We get two people for the price of one."

Sales have gone up every year, from a little over $250,000 in 2002, to $500,000 in 2002, $600,000 in 2003 and $850,000 in 2004, to $1,300,000 last year. Cost to vendors is a $35 application fee, plus a $25 minimum space fee or 10 percent of gross sales each Sunday, whichever is greater. "We give the credit to Joyce. She took this baby and ran with it," says Lind. "The Sunday Market has brought people and publicity to this area."

Other members of the Astoria Sunday Market board are secretary Chris Bennett, Beth Kendall and Mitch Mitchum. The board, which meets monthly, is looking for someone to serve as treasurer because Susan Schroeder has moved away. Richard Hurley, an Astoria accountant, provides financial expertise.

Giving backAs the Astoria Sunday Market's financial picture continues to improve, the nonprofit organization has been investing in Astoria.

"We really have been able to benefit the city," says Dodge. "We're always looking for ways to improve downtown."

Last month, the Sunday Market presented a $20,000 check to the Astoria City Council to go toward improving the concrete slab where the old Safeway once stood and help turn it into a public plaza with tables, chairs and landscaping. In 2004, the Market put up $17,000 for public restrooms on Exchange Street, just east of 12th Street, a joint project with the city and the Chamber.

Other expenditures include purchasing a bicycle for use by the Astoria Police Department and two seats at the Liberty Theater. A $2,000 check for the Chinese Park at Ninth and Astor streets is in the works.

"We're looking for an extremely profitable year this year," Dodge says.


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