Centennial Hall, seen here on Tuesday, Nov. 24, is being used by the City and Borough of Juneau as an emergency facility during the coronavirus pandemic and will not host the annual Public Market which has taken place every weekend after Thanksgiving since 1983. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Centennial Hall, seen here on Tuesday, Nov. 24, is being used by the City and Borough of Juneau as an emergency facility during the coronavirus pandemic and will not host the annual Public Market which has taken place every weekend after Thanksgiving since 1983. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Want to buy Alaskan? Closed by pandemic, Public Market goes virtual

Online market lasts until Dec. 31

Public Market, normally one of Juneau’s largest annual events, is being held entirely online this year due to health restrictions put in place by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Started in 1983, Public Market has changed over the years, but this is the first time it’s been entirely online, said Peter Metcalfe, the event’s organizer. A three-day event that in recent years has needed extra venue space to accommodate all its vendors didn’t seem like the safest situation during a pandemic, particularly considering many of the market’s participants are in vulnerable populations, Metcalfe said.

Normally throngs of Juneauites would be lined up around the block to get into Centennial Hall, the Juneau Arts and Culture Center and in more recent years, Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall, he said. But this year, Centennial Hall and the JACC are being used by the City and Borough of Juneau as emergency warming shelters and quarantine facilities for the city’s unsheltered population.

“It saved us a hard decision,” Metcalfe said, when the city started using those facilities. “It made the decision for us. Our vendors didn’t argue.”

Many of Public Market’s vendors depend on the event for seasonal income, he said, and it was important that the event still happen in some capacity. Metcalfe announced the cancellation in September but told his vendors he’d use the Public Market website and social media to promote them through the end of the year. The virtual public market can be reached at juneaupublicmarket.com.

But Public Market’s own website is very simple, Metcalfe said, and only provides links to vendors’ own websites where customers can make their purchase. That was working well for the vendors who had their own sites, he said, but there are some arts and crafts vendors who normally participate who weren’t set up for those kinds of sales.

Monday morning, Metcalfe said he had 35 vendors signed up for this year’s event, and he expected more to join. Recently joined vendors are already reporting increased sales from their websites, he said.

Coffee, tea, handcrafted wooden spoons and fishing rods are just some of the items available from local vendors this year, and the event’s Facebook page, Virtual Juneau Public Market, is promoting the individual vendors and how to purchase their goods.

But while things are going well, this year’s market is a far cry from what it’s been in the past. In 2019, what Metcalfe called the “high water mark” for the event there were 210 vendors from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Last year, organizers arranged for free parking and a free trolley car making stops at the event.

Metcalfe runs the event with his wife, Sandy, and members of their extended family.

“It’s not a profit center for me. My motive in doing this was to help the vendors who were depending on the Public Market to make their season,” he said.

Public Market typically employs 35 people for the weekend, he said.

”If people want to shop Alaska, this is one way to do it,” he said. “There’s some wonderful holiday gifts to be had.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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