To market, to market

April 6, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Issaquah Farmers Market returns for 20th season

A cornucopia of produce, flowers and arts and crafts will return when the Issaquah Farmers Market opens for a 20th season April 10.

The market will welcome visitors at Pickering Barn for a 12th year. The opening day will feature the usual reunions between longtime vendors and customers, as well as entertainment.

Mayor Ava Frisinger will greet customers and vendors at the market in a 10 a.m. speech. Firehouse Fiddlers, a group based in the Issaquah Highlands, will perform from 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.

The local market predates other Eastside farmers markets by several years. Dorothy Knitter and John Whitaker opened the market two decades ago at Gibson Hall. Organizers set up the earliest markets at a handful of sites in downtown Issaquah.

The market relocated throughout downtown in the early years, and settled at Pickering Barn a dozen years ago. The city upgraded the frontier-era barn after the market settled there.

But this year, the market will reopen without a familiar face. Market Manager Dave Sao departed last year when, as a cost-cutting measure, the city offered severance packages to longtime employees.

Patrons arrive to chat with vendors and make purchases on the first open Saturday of the year for the 2009 Issaquah Farmers Market at Pickering Farm. By Greg Farrar

Despite the occasional dustup with the city about the location of the market, city officials said the renovated Pickering Barn serves as a draw for clientele. The market, situated near the flagship Costco, also attracts passers-by when the warehouse store bustles on Saturday mornings.

“The market rocks,” City Events Coordinator Jera Gilmore said.

Nowadays, the market can attract up to 4,500 people on a good day. Gilmore said the crowds should build as springtime showers turn to summer sunshine, temperatures rise and the number of vendors increases. The bazaar hums to life in June, when fresh produce from Eastern Washington reaches market stalls.

The location “is what every other market would hope for,” Gilmore said, crediting the locale and especially the sellers for the success of the market.

“The vendors are the most important, of course, and the barn is the second most important,” she said.

Longtime market vendors include beekeepers, carpenters, farmers and jewelers. Meet a handful of market vendors, and learn about their experiences in Issaquah.

The carver

John Cook traces his involvement with the Issaquah Farmers Market to a long-ago Issaquah Salmon Days Festival. He met market organizer Knitter as they worked on a parade float for the event.

So, Cook joined the market — then held in downtown Issaquah — back when vendors sold goods from car trunks and truck beds.

Sammamish woodcrafter John Cook holds a handmade cedar planter basket and an amaranth ‘purpleheart’ wood trinket box for purchase at the Issaquah Farmers Market. By Greg Farrar

Customers arrive, rain or shine, to browse the scroll-saw trinket boxes and clocks he fashions in his Sammamish workshop. Cook said vendors look forward to opening day, too, even if April showers prove to be a certainty.

“The rain doesn’t seem to stop them if it’s not too bad,” he said.

The early years helped plant the seed. Vendors tried a few spots in downtown Issaquah before organizers petitioned the city to use the barn for the market. The move helped cement the popularity of the spring and summertime event.

Interest in the market boomed in the past decade, and now Cook can count on repeat customers at Pickering Barn.

“Now, we’ve got a really darn good market,” he said.

The jeweler

Customers call Susan Grouell “the earring queen” for the thousands of dangling baubles she sells each market season.

The offerings also include lanyards, including some fashioned from embossed leather. Grouell will return to the market for a ninth year. She sets up near longtime carver Cook, a market mainstay.

Grouell has sold handmade wares since 1968, when she unfurled a piece of black velvet and displayed her works at the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets in San Francisco.

Nowadays, Grouell hauls dozens upon dozens of earrings and lanyards to Pickering Barn from her Black Diamond home at 6 a.m. on market Saturdays. She calls the business Crystal Dreams.

The early arrival allows Grouell time to scope the market before customers descend en masse. Other early risers browse and stop to chat with Grouell and other vendors; she estimates she knows more than 50 customers by their first names. She even keeps a stool stowed behind the display tables for times when regular customers linger to chat.

“My customers — they’re just so cute,” she said.

The quilter

Market regulars find Audrey Fisher week after week beneath a lattice draped with quilted wares. The quilter sets up at the same spot inside Pickering Barn year after year.

Customers browse quilts done in a delicate watercolor style, some for display as decorative wall hangings and others meant to be snuggled.

Fisher will return to the market for a seventh year. Almost every Saturday morning from April to October, she sets up her display and then heads into the market to shop for produce. The rhythm of the market appeals to her — the conversations with fellow vendors, the questions shoppers ask about her wares.

In addition to quilts, the longtime vendor gained a following for the handmade potholders she displays organized by theme — such as a barnyard series adorned with farm animals, a seashore line decorated with boats and shells. Loyal customers return to buy complete sets of the potholders piece by piece.

Fisher started quilting more than 15 years ago. She honed her craft creating goods for the seasonal Issaquah market and the occasional craft show.

Mel Haus, cedar furniture craftsman, chats with a visitor to his trailer on an opening day of the Issaquah Farmers Market. By Greg Farrar

The carpenter

Look for carpenter Mel Haus in a prominent spot outside Pickering Barn. The outdoor furniture he has sold at the market for a dozen years remains a draw season after season. Market regulars seek out the sign labeled Mel’s Cedar Yard Craft.

“You bring ’em in for me,” Sao used to tell him.

Haus started coming to the event after he had a conversation with Knitter 13 years ago. He set up alongside other vendors the following Saturday.

Haus makes the furniture at his South King County workshop and then hauls the goods to Issaquah in a 20-foot trailer.

The offerings include outdoor furniture, swings and arbors — a big seller at the Issaquah market. Haus will set up outside the barn most Saturdays during market season.

Sometimes he gets a chance to browse a bit, and check out the flowers and produce hauled from Eastern Washington farms. Usually, though, the market rush keeps him busy at his spot.

“People have been really nice to me,” Haus said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

If you go

Issaquah Farmers Market

  • 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
  • Saturdays from April 10 – Oct. 9
  • Pickering Barn
  • 1730 10th Ave. N.W.
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