The empty building that once buzzed with Alaska Wild Berry Products jam-, jelly- and candy-making energy was humming last Saturday.
Between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., customers browsed, shopped and visited with 24 farmers, artists, crafters, cooks, beverage-makers and musicians participating in opening day of Alaska Wild Berry Emporium.
“I love making good ideas and this one was,” said organizer Scott Wright of the indoor market he plans to be a weekly event through May. “It was so amazing. I couldn’t help smiling.”
Just inside the doors a colorful display of pumpkins from Christina Castellanos’ Snowshoe Hollow Farm greeted the public.
Robert Durr’s vegetables, grown on a seven-acre farm near Nikolaevsk, had shoppers filling bags with fresh-from-the-earth produce.
“Pie man” Steve Chmielowiec and his wife, Cassie, sold a variety of pies baked that morning and still warm from the oven.
“Their pies are awesome, the best pie I’ve ever had,” said Jan Johnson, who selected a strawberry rhubarb pie to take home.
Cynthia Cox’s beadwork featured Halloween earrings for $1 a pair and Alex Mayer displayed jewelry made with polymer clay. Other jewelers showed their artistry with scrimshaw and combinations of gems, rocks, wood and shells from Homer beaches.
There were samplings of this year’s bountiful honey harvest. Jakolof Bay Oyster Company contributed offerings from the sea. There was salsa, crackers and baked goodies and a line in front of Kombucha on Tap.
There were soaps, art fit for framing, wreaths and homemade hats perfect for keeping heads warm during winter.
Hospice of Homer sold tickets for a raffle of artwork donated by Mary Frische and Tom Collopy, the winning ticket to be drawn in November. In the afternoon, musician Nikos Kilcher filled the building with music.
First-market vendors were extended a $1-per-space introductory rate.
“I was encouraged by a community member who said we should do the first one for free, but I said no, I want everyone to cast a $1 vote for this idea to float,” said Wright. Judging from Saturday’s response, the $1 was something “I didn’t need to do. There was so much interest that it blew me away.”
Spaces at future markets are $25 for one Saturday, $90 for a calendar month and $600 for six calendar months.
Originally from Oregon, Wright was a high school student when he and his family realized their dream of moving to Alaska in the late 1970s, arriving by bus. Traveling by and living in a bus figured large in the family’s adventures, whether it was Wright’s father, Jerry, or mother, Wynonia, at the wheel.
He described his father as “a very talented man” and his mother as “an amazing entity in my life.” Years later, Wright and his daughter, Sage, operated a bus-based juice stand at the Tanana Valley State Fair in Fairbanks. Three years ago that bus was resurrected as Cool Juicy Bus and operated by the family in the Alaska Wild Berry parking lot.
“That’s how I got interested in this building, because I was parked next to it and started dreaming about how cool this building is and what it could do,” said Wright, a carpenter by trade.
The more he heard stories from Cool Juicy Bus customers whose family members helped construct the Alaska Wild Berry building or worked in its kitchen, the more Wright dreamed of infusing the empty building with life.
“It gave me more of a sense what this (building) means to this community,” he said.
Wright’s vision for Alaska Wild Berry Emporium is to highlight locally grown, produced and made crafts, food and veggies. He is supported in the effort by his wife, author Jennifer Bernard, his two daughters, Sage and Indigo, and “a lot of community support.” This week Wright is addressing a to-do list of projects such as adding more exit lighting to make the building code-compliant to safely house more vendors.
Following what he describes as Satuarday’s “incredible” opening, Wright’s plan is to continue the weekly indoor market through May.
“And we’ll see where it goes from there,” he said.
McKibben Jackinsky is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.
Alaska Wild Berry Emporium
A weekly indoor market and community event
Where: 528 E. Pioneer Ave., the former home of Alaska Wild Berry Products
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. every Saturday through May
Who: Organized by Scott Wright