“You’ll buy produce from the person who grew it,” declares Adrianne Gordon, assistant market manager for the Grove Arcade. “We’re not at all flexible on that.
She’s talking, of course, about the Mountain Fresh Market, a row of 12 stalls located outside the downtown shopping complex’s south entrance.
“The whole idea of public markets is to be owner-operated, so it made sense to do that with the outdoor stalls, too,” Gordon adds.
Pass by the stalls when they’re unoccupied and they look like a bunch of oversized metal tables that are too high off the ground for pulling up a chair. But if you happen by the them on a sunny Saturday afternoon, their purpose becomes instantly clear.
Already, a group of eager merchants are claiming their spots and selling their wares from these “daytables” (the stalls rent by the day, on a quarterly basis).
Jeff Racer runs the Balm of Zarahelma stall — you probably know him from Bele Chere and other festivals, or at least recognize the sharp, fresh scent of his all-natural homemade soaps.
“People know where I am now,” Racer says of his new digs. “And they keep coming back to replenish their stock.”
While crafters have dominated the Mountain Fresh Market since it opened in conjunction with the Grove Arcade’s Harvest Festival last October, Gordon promises that farmers will begin to fill in the outdoor stalls in April and May.
In fact, local growers will be given priority for daytable space, Gordon notes.
“Our focus is to provide farmers with a downtown retail outlet,” she adds. “This is a six-day selling opportunity for farmers, and they’re able to work around the schedules of their own businesses.”
Gordon speculates that the Mountain Fresh Market, like the Grove Arcade’s indoor shops, is frequented more by tourists than locals. However, she hopes the tide will soon shift in the other direction.
“When we’ve rounded out our food offerings with meat and seafood — in addition to the cheeses and produce we currently provide — we can meet local needs as well as being a tourist draw,” she declares.
As mentioned on the Grove Arcade Web site (www.grovearcade.com), a few of the public market’s goals include brining sustainable economic development and social vitality to the community, encouraging entrepreneurship, keeping profits re-circulating in the community and showcasing what’s unique about the area.
The Grove Arcade Public Market is actually based on Seattle’s longstanding Pike Place Market, a buzzing inner-city nucleus of fresh produce and crafts.
Pike Place opened in 1907 as a result of citizen outrage at a local price hike in produce, along with farmers’ complaints of being cheated by middlemen. When a group of growers brought their goods into town, hoping to sell directly to the public, they were met by a mob of 10,000 eager shoppers — thus the market was born.
Pike Place designer and developer Frank Goodwin created stalls for farmers along the sidewalks, and several years later, he constructed an indoor arcade with spaces for merchants and restaurants, as well as a butchery, a creamery, a grain market and a print shop.
These days, the Seattle market is home to 200 daytables browsed by 9 million visitors annually.
The Grove Arcade, brainchild of real-estate magnate E.W. Grove, was completed in 1929. Back then, it housed one of the country’s first indoor public markets, featuring 74 shops and 127 offices. The complex served as a centralized shopping area for Asheville until WWII, when the federal government took over the building as part of the national war effort.
The Grove Arcade remained in government ownership for years, despite many private developers expressing an interest in renovating the building.
Then in 1992, the Grove Arcade Public Market Foundation was formed to restore the building, and the group brought in Aaron Zaretsky as its executive director. (Zaretsky boasted 15 years’ experience as none other than the former director of Pike Place Market.)
While the Mountain Fresh Market offers 12 daytables compared to the 200 at Pike Place, the mission is the same.
“Stall occupants must be local, and crafts must be handmade,” Gordon insists. “The idea is to be an outlet for local farmers and crafters. It’s a way to support local business.”
Vendors selling organic goods are required to show certification, she adds.
Sherry Scull has been bringing her handcrafted birdhouses and other wares to the Mountain Fresh Market since last October.
“I was the second one to sign up [for a stall],” she announces. “I come from Burke County, and I drive up here two days a week.”
Scull, who runs the Evergreen daytable, was born and raised on her family’s Evergreen Farm, in a house built during the mid-1800s. She collects materials from her land to create her works.
“I gather the moss and raise the corn for the birdhouses,” she explains. “I’m strictly a gatherer — I collect bark, antlers and feathers from the woods.” (She also sells spring flowers planted by her mother.)
“I love the stalls — even being out here all winter,” Scull reveals. “I love to interact with all the people.”
Asheville native Mike Cowan of Moonshiner Metal Works also enjoys communing with the public.
“I’m probably here four or five times a month, and I enjoy talking to the people out here,” he enthuses.
As local farmers gear up for spring and summer, Gordon receives more and more calls each day from perspective daytable renters.
“I send out one or two applications every day,” she says.
Though she expects the public market to become “an essential downtown stop,” she concedes that “it takes a while for people to change their grocery-shopping habits.”
Eventually, she trusts that “people who live and work downtown will realize that they can just stop by the Grove Arcade and get whatever they need.”
The Mountain Fresh Market is open year round Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Rental fees are $25 per day; permits and advanced reservations are required. For more information or application materials, call Adrianne Gordon at 252-7799, ext. 102.