Saturday Market continues to please

Everywhere you look, excitement is in the air. An assortment of aromas waft by, some greasy American, while others call from distant parts of the world. Shops line both sides of the street, containing the flow of people. Even the artists and entertainers can’t keep you from noticing the quality of the handcrafted wares. Sound like medieval Europe?

You don’t need a time machine to visit this Saturday market, just a Tri-Met pass and a fun-loving spirit. The market is open every weekend from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.

The festivities take place in the heart of the Skidmore district in downtown Portland. The site extends from under the Burnside Bridge south through Ankeny Park to the Jeff Morris Fire Museum. It is bounded to the east and west by Southwest Front and First Avenues, respectiveley.

The event Web site states that “The mission of the Portland Saturday Market is to provide an environment that encourages the economic and artistic growth of emerging and accomplished artisans. Central to this mission shall be to operate a marketplace. That marketplace, and other programs, shall honor craftsmanship, design innovation, marketing ethics, and authenticity of product.”

This goal is being actively accomplished each weekend as Portlanders and visitors alike shop, eat and are entertained by vendors and artists. It is the perfect place to find a unique birthday gift, an addition to your carnivorous plant collection, or just get some great food. You can always count on veggie burritos and the wood artists to be there, but don’t be surprised if you encounter a new booth on every corner.

Saturday Market has made a few changes since the days when a lawn chair reserved a space. A board of directors and full-time staff keep the $4-million organization growing strong. Nine members of the board are vendors and the other four represent the community. In the beginning, even the largest open-air market in the country had a humble start .

Eugene, Ore. provided the concept and still maintains the longest running crafts market. Sheri Teasdale and Andrea Scharf moved from Eugene to Portland in the early 1970s, but missed the fun-filled Saturdays back home. They decided to start a Portland version and Eugene allowed them to use the same name as long as Portland continued the tradition of only hand-crafted items. In June 1974, the Portland Saturday Market was born.

It wasn’t an easy task. Teasdale, who stayed with the market until 1992, revealed that she and Scharf spent more than five months contacting the city, county, planning commission and arts and crafts organizations. They needed to find the craftspeople, money and site to make it happen.

Old Town businessman Bill Naito ended their site search by donating a parking lot if they agreed to cover extra insurance costs. A Metropolitan Arts Commission grant of $1000 launched them on their way. The Saturday Market, Inc. is now a nonprofit corporation. The fees from the vendors are enough to keep the organization completely self-sufficient.

The bottom-line? You ever heard of a corporation that sells handcrafted items? Me neither. Isn’t that worth an investigation at the very least? As a private eye next weekend, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. It shouldn’t be hard as you sift through the woodcarvings, pottery and tie die. Keep your eyes peeled for clues explaining why this nonprofit organization is all about fun.