Downtown Farmer’s Market
Awardee: Shane Laib of the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation
Award: Economic Vitality
City: Walla Walla
During the 1990s, as downtown Walla Walla was beginning the extensive Local Improvement District rehabilitation process, an idea was brought forth to develop a farmers market to enhance and showcase the local agricultural and artisan offerings of the Walla Walla Valley. The overall goal was to attract local shoppers to the downtown core.
Original plans involved the city building a market structure on an abandoned lumber yard adjacent to downtown, but it was soon clear that this was a cost prohibitive plan. Not willing to let the proposed market die, the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation and members of the City Council developed a new plan to build an open-air market on the vacant block. The market kicked off its first season in 1997.
Several nay-sayers said it wouldn’t last, but through the efforts of the vendors, volunteers, staff, sponsors, and patrons alike, the market recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Originally subsidized by the city and private donations, the market is now 100% self-sustaining.
With its central location in the downtown core, the market has become one of the unique gathering places for residents and tourists alike. In 2016, survey results showed that 42% of market visitors were from out of town and 92% of them planned to purchase during their visit. The 2016 market produced an additional $500,000 in sales for the local economy.
Market vendors transitioning to successful brick and mortar locations and local chefs purchasing products for their restaurants on a regular basis are signs of a market that is fully integrated and serving as an economic engine in the community. The Downtown Farmers Market is a vibrant, healthy market that is a consistent source of economic impact on the local economy.