No matter what the calendar says, winter's never really over until the Astoria Sunday Market begins.
That happens this Sunday, when rows of white booths will spring up along 12th Street, from Exchange Street to Marine Drive. The market will run for 23 Sundays this season, ending on Oct. 11, the weekend of the Great Columbia Crossing. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"Things look great," said Mitch Mitchum, president of the Sunday Market's board of directors. "We're completely full and we have a waiting list."
There's a new lineup for entertainment, with 17 bands spread over the season. Some are old local favorites, like the Bond Street Blues Band, and some are new groups from Portland and Tacoma, Wash., said Cyndi Mudge, executive director of the Sunday Market. The variety will make the Market even more attractive to the many local residents who come every week. Featured this Sunday are The Swing Cats, whose members specialize in swing-era jazz and bossa nova. Next week, the Portland pop jazz group RaChiChi will take the stage.
There are also new vendors in the food court, which sets up in the Wells Fargo Bank parking lot on Marine Drive every Sunday. There, market-goers can relax at umbrella tables, listen to music and dine on a variety of tasty foods, from tamales to Indian cuisine. There are 18 food vendors this season.
Fresh produce is especially popular with market-goers and Mudge said more produce dealers have signed up this season. Despite the cold winter, there will be fresh produce this Sunday, she said, with much more variety available as the season progresses. Many local restaurant owners take advantage of the fresh fruits and vegetables, notably Peter Roscoe, owner of Fulio's, and Columbian Cafe owner Uriah Hulsey, who brings his little red wagon to the Market every week. Mudge said Hulsey tells her 80 percent of what he serves in his restaurant on Marine Drive comes from the Sunday Market during the season.
Mudge said that's an example of the way the Market connects with downtown merchants. Many have booths at the Market and most downtown businesses stay open on Sunday during Market season. This year a guide has been published to let people know not only what's going on at the Market but also what the rest of downtown Astoria has to offer throughout the summer. It is being distributed both locally and in Portland.
"Our mission is to revitalize downtown," she said, "and to encourage artists and small business owners in the Pacific Northwest - kind of be an incubator for small businesses. Our goal with the Market is actually to draw attention to all of downtown, especially the historic downtown district."
The Market has 189 spaces. That doesn't mean 189 different vendors, because some spread out to two or more spaces, but it's definitely a vast array of products, services and information. Five booths feature photography, seven sell fresh produce, there are 15 vendors selling jewelry and five purveyors in the category of wood and antler products, jewelry and knives. Also for sale are soaps and candles, plants and flowers, hats and other clothing, clocks, fishing spinners, kettle corn, fudge and dozens of others. You can also get a massage, have your face painted and visit the Clatsop Animal Assistance booth to learn about animals up for adoption at the county animal shelter.
This year a group of budding young capitalists who belong to the Young Entrepreneurs Club will hold forth at the Biz Kidz tent. The Market partnered with the club, which is sponsored by Clatsop County 4-H and led by Oregon State University extension agent Sandra Carlson, to help children learn how to market their products. Starting next month, Mudge said a seven-year-old girl will be selling dog biscuits in the form of "pup cakes," for example, and a teenage girl will sell pressed-flower bookmarks.
One vendor who will be missing this year is Bill Dodge, the Astoria artist whose colorful paintings and prints of Astoria's hillsides and riverfront have always been big sellers at the Market. Now in his 70s, Dodge decided to retire this year, but his work is still available at local art galleries. Taking over his vending space is another famous artist, David Bartholet, who lives in Seaside. He specializes in paintings of wildlife.
Mudge expects attendance to be strong this year. "Now more than ever people are looking for inexpensive ways to do things with their family, and markets are a great way to do that. And no matter what your income level, there's something at the Market that's probably affordable," Mudge said.
She expects good weather and a big crowd this Sunday. "Every place I go to, people are happy," Mudge said. "The Sunday Market is a sign of spring."