By DAN WHEAT
WENATCHEE, Wash. -- The hot new place in Wenatchee these days is a public market with a historic past.
Crowds have packed Pybus Public Market most weekends since it opened May 11. A parking lot for 150 vehicles and 50 bicycles fills up, as does borrowed parking lots to the south and north.
"I didn't know what to expect. It's a grand experiment but we've been gratified with the level of support," said Steve Robinson, market executive director.
The market is a $10 million rebuild of a 28,000-square-foot warehouse close to the Columbia River where steel was fabricated for a multitude of uses from the 1920s until 2009.
Now it's an agricultural and artisan market with restaurants and coffee shops that promoters liken to Seattle's Pike Place Market. Customers can buy fresh seafood, fruit and produce, Washington wines and cheese, bakery items and get cooking classes. There's live music when the Wenatchee Valley Farmers' Market sets up outside on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, but the WVFM Country Store inside is open most days.
"It's going to be great because there's so much excitement about Pybus," said Penny Bickford, chairwoman of the WVFM Association.
"It's good to have a permanent location," she said. "We've been use to moving every couple of years and it took people time to find us. We've been in some out-of-the-way places."
WVFM once did well in the city's Riverfront Park but changes precipitated a move.
"The city had been promising us a permanent location for years, so when the HUD (U.S. Housing and Urban Development) grant came around for the Pybus Market, a component was a farmers' market with a cooler to store extras for local food banks," Bickford said.
The Country Store has grain from Okanogan's Methow Valley, chicken from Ellensburg, frozen beef from Tonasket, pork and milk from the Columbia Basin.
"We're trying to make it very regional," Bickford said.
The outdoor farmers' market operates from mid-May to the end of October and during the height of the season has over 50 vendors.
A separate outdoor artisan market is held the first and third Fridays each month through summer.
The Port of Chelan County bought the warehouse in 2010 and provided $2.7 million for the renovation that began in May of 2012. Mike and JoAnn Walker, owners of the Eagle Group of transport companies, gave $2 million and bought and donated part of the site for $700,000. There was a $1.4 million HUD grant and some of the 20 permanent tenants contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in improvements, Robinson said.
The port owns the property and leases it to the Pybus Public Market Foundation.
"It's a very ambitious project in a small town, but it's in the center of the state and has the support of the community and tourism," he said. "People say it feels good. They bump into people they know there. We know it's a success now in summer, but the Tuesday in February test will prove if it's a year-round thing."