A different kind of Shopping Adventure

Public Market is Juneau's alternative to retail outlet madness

Posted: Friday, November 27, 2009

Shopping for a dish or dishing while shopping?

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The Alaska-Juneau Public Market has come to be one of the city's annual traditions where locals come together to, well, come together. Oh, and they buy a bunch of stuff, too.

In its 27th year, the public market is Juneau's alternative to the name-brand retail outlet madness of Black Friday.

But that's not to say it isn't busy. The past few years there's been a line out the door at the noon opening hour, said event organizer Peter Metcalfe.

The shoppers line up to buy holiday gifts from more than 175 vendors. It's the place to get unique gifts since many of the vendors are crafters and artists who sell only at this market.

Long-time downtown retailer Stewart Cohen started working the public market in 1984. Never a fan of Black Friday, Cohen said he thinks the market has become routine for many Juneau families.

"You get a strong sense of Juneau as a community when you're there ... and that's why I like it," he said. "That, and seeing all my friends. I see people I haven't seen in 20 years."

Vendors come mostly from around Alaska with items like Alaska Native handicrafts, handmade soaps, knives, pottery, jewelry, custom-made garments or wild berry products.

Jewelry artist Leah Sturgis, a former Juneau resident, travels from Virginia to sell her work in the market. The trip is for business - she makes 5 percent of her annual sales over the weekend - but it's also a lot of fun for the former preschool teacher.

"Doing the market means I get to see so many people in one spot," Sturgis said. "It's great for business and great socially that I get to see all these kids I had in preschool, and they're teenagers now."

The social atmosphere of the market might help new vendor Ted Heslin, the cheese monger for Rainbow Foods.

Heslin plans to bring all types of specialty cheeses from the natural foods grocer to the public market this weekend, offering some to taste and pair with olives, crackers and peppers.

"This is a whole new thing for me," Heslin said. "I didn't know how much to order."

The hope is that people will try and buy.

"Some of them are hand-crafted, tiny little things ... the shelf life is stable for at least the month people will want to give them as gifts," he said.

About a third of the vendors are like Heslin - new to the show.

Metcalfe said he likes to "keep things fresh" by mixing up products through vendor selections.

Also trying it out is cabinet-knob maker and 57-year Haines resident Debra Schnabel, who uses river rocks to make her wares.

Schnabel finds the stones while walking her chocolate lab down the beach near her home. She likes the response she gets from people who first see her product.

"They usually just think I'm displaying my rock collection, but then they realize what they are," she said.

Going to the Alaska-Juneau Public Market is the most aggressive marketing Schnabel's ever done.

The market is a for-profit venture run by Metcalfe Communications since it opened in 1983. There's a $5 entry fee to Centennial Hall. A smaller market at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center is free. Both locations are open from noon to 8 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.

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