Centralia City Councilor Sarah Althauser fondly remembers walking to Pine Street in downtown Centralia with her then very young children to shop at the Centralia Farmers Market.
As a member of the Centralia Downtown Association helping to create the new downtown gathering spot Pine Street Plaza, she dreamed the market might one day return to that location.
“I was really inspired by the farmers market because it was that gathering spot and every thriving downtown has that,” Althauser said. “Just having that in the heart of the downtown speaks to your community.”
This year, that dream will become a reality.
When the Centralia Farmers Market opens for its regular season May 6, it will be at Pine Street Plaza. Started in 1978, making it one of the oldest farmers markets in the state, the Historic Lewis County Farmers Market (affectionately known as the Centralia Farmers Market) was most recently located at the Centralia Factory Outlets for the last four seasons. Prior to that, the market had been located for a few years in the parking lot across from The Chronicle and before that, a parking lot across from Centralia City Hall. Though it was not called Pine Street Plaza at the time, the market’s location prior to that was on Pine Street exactly where it will be again this year.
Althauser said when she brought up the topic of wooing the farmers market back downtown, she was often told it would never happen. With a laugh, Althauser said her response was “challenge accepted.”
Market manager and Olde Achers Farm owner Marie Shankle joked that the move was initiated because Althauser “stalked her,” calling her multiple times in the offseason until she agreed to set up a meeting to talk about it.
Shankle was careful to point out that the move does not indicate they were unhappy at the outlets. She said the market is grateful to the outlets for their hospitality and they have already been invited back and intend to return to the outlets this Christmas season for their third indoor holiday market.
Shankle explained that the move really is about becoming part of the downtown experience that is being cultivated by the work of the CDA. She noted that in their previous locations in the downtown core, they had quite a few shoppers who rode their bicycles or the bus to the market and felt the move could allow that to happen again. She said she even sees the potential for the market to draw in tourists and train riders.
“It’s going to be so nice to look at ourselves as a destination market,” Shankle said.
Like other local farmers markets, supporters of the Centralia Farmers Market are optimistic not only about their new location but the 2022 season in general. Board president Bruce Yost, a woodworker who has been with the Centralia Farmers Market for 14 seasons, said the market was just starting to hit a major stride in terms of number of vendors and shoppers right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Despite the hardships of the global pandemic, Yost worked with Shankle to keep the market open over two difficult seasons.
“It’s loyalty,” Yost said of what keeps him coming back. “I started here. I’ve been to a bunch of other farmers markets but this is the one where I started. This is my hometown.”
The new downtown location will likely present a few logistical issues that will have to be figured out, Shankle noted. For one, some of the farmers with large rigs will have to figure out how to load and unload their produce in the much narrower thoroughfare. And they are working on plans for how to minimize blocking local businesses, especially Dawn’s Delectables, which is on Pine Street Plaza, because they want the downtown businesses to see them as an ally, not competition. And there is also the potential for parking and traffic issues that will have to be dealt with, Shankle said.
“Each location has its pluses and minuses,” she said. “We hope everyone will be patient with us as we figure this out.”