Enterprise: Eugene Saturday Market

The History of Eugene Saturday Market

By: Samantha Thom

            While life can sometimes be unpredictable or unreliable, take comfort in the fact that the Eugene Saturday Market will happen every week, rain or shine.  The Eugene Saturday Market is non-profit, private organization consisting of over 150 local artisans, crafters and builders coming together on Saturdays to sell their homemade goods on the 8th Avenue park blocks. Items ranging from soaps, clothing, ceramics, jewelry, food, photography, children’s toys, and many more fill the lush green space to provide visitors with more than enough to keep them impressed and occupied. There is a great energy that fills the air, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and people from all ages and all different walks of life visit, sell, and have a great time.

In the late 1960s, a Eugene potter named Lotte Streisinger attended a crafts conference in Central America. While there she also visited other markets in the area, and was inspired to bring the concept back and do something with it in her own backyard. Her ideas coincided with the surge in crafting in this time period.

“As part of the anti-war movement, there was a sort of self-sufficiency movement as well,” said Kim Still, the Promotions and Advertising Manager of the Eugene Saturday Market. “It involved back-to-the-land people, but also involved crafts. So like the folk music explosion, crafts also were everywhere and everyone was being an artist. And so it just seemed like a really good way to get artists and customers together, to have a market.”

The name itself is trademarked in the state of Oregon, meaning that any other market within the state must abide by the rules set forth by the Eugene Saturday Market: everything has to be handcrafted.

“I think we’ve kept with handcrafted because that was always the rule since day one,” Still said. “And there’s a committee that meets once a month and has lengthy discussions about what exactly is handcrafted. It’s important, especially with technology always changing. They’re really dedicated to keeping it handcrafted because it sets us apart from Walmart, a flea market or a Picadilly. It supports people in what they do.”

It costs $40 for an annual membership fee to sell at the Market, and all sellers must either be the person who made the goods, a blood relative or legal relative within the state of Oregon.

There is a never-ending stream of people who want to perform at the Market, as well. Still says that she could easily book two stages, six times a day, completely different acts because Eugene is chock full of aspiring and talented musicians. Scattered around the park blocks are others playing their accordions, sitars, bucket drums, and creating balloon art as their forms of expression. It’s a great way to get students out performing in their community too, coming with either their school band or instructor to showcase their skills and entertain Market guests. Having not only the goods at market coming from local people, it’s a good community practice and bonds Eugene closer together.

“That’s sort of the hallmark of our market is that it’s about people connecting with each other,” said Still. “That’s really what keeps it going is that really personal relationship that everybody has at market.”

Eugene Saturday Market takes place every week, with free parking available in the garages on 8th Avenue and on Broadway.

Caveman Croquet

Caldwell shows off some of his unique, rustic croquet gear.

 A Eugene craftsman puts a unique spin on a classic yard game.

By: Samantha Thom

            A garage can be a place to park a car, pack away old memories or store those things there just isn’t any other place for. The theme of this one, though, is obvious: wood, and lots of it. Walking inside and sifting through a jungle of saw dust, freshly cut tree limbs and heavy machinery just proves that this local creative is serious about his craft.

For Dave Caldwell, his garage is the ultimate work space. With his mind endlessly curious and gears always grinding, he has projects ranging from ceramics, restoring a boat and woodworking to keep his free time busy. His longest venture, however, has been his handmade croquet sets. Caldwell started Cro-Magnon Croquet 8 years ago, beginning with one mega mallet he built as a gift.

Caldwell gives a tour of his cluttered but inspiring workspace.

“It was a friend of mine’s birthday, he was having a birthday party and he was going to play croquet,” he says. “And I thought ‘well, I’ll make him a big mallet’. He broke the regular croquet ball using that thing, and he said ‘oh, you should make whole sets and everything’. I was still living in Pleasant Hill, and we had about 25 trees blow down in this big, crazy windstorm that came through. I had all these half logs lying around and I just kind of put it all together and it came about this way.”

Cro-Magnon Croquet, as it’s been called ever since, is now Caldwell’s main attraction at his and his wife’s Eugene Saturday Market booth. While croquet may not be the first thing that comes to mind when people think of uniqueness or individuality, Caldwell’s sets look straight out of Paul Bunyon’s tool shed. With their rustic look and palpable feel, Caldwell wanted to make sure whatever he named it also reflected that.

“I was thinking rustic, caveman, something like that,” he says. “My wife and I jointly came together with the name.”

Though he doesn’t attend every week, Caldwell says the Market has been a huge help to him in regards to selling and marketing his sets.

“Ever since I put the first one out at Saturday Market I get oohs and ahs constantly,” he says. “People have just never seen things like this before. It’s been taking off and this year has been the best so far for sales. By the time I do all the labor and everything I don’t make a whole lot on ‘em but I make some. It’s my little side thing.”

His sets are also the best quality they’ve ever been. With the hoops evolving from barely-visible copper wire to bold, yellow rebar, Caldwell is proud to offer a lifetime guarantee for his $200 croquet sets.

“If anything breaks, I’ll replace it,” he says. “No store will ever give that.”

Most stores also don’t use recycled wood for their products. Caldwell says that the last thing he wants to do is go out and purposely cut down trees to build his products. All of the frames, mallets and balls are made of woods from friends, family members and anywhere else he can find it. He even uses the wood that he hollows out to form the croquet balls to make birdhouses.

Sustainability is an area that Caldwell is passionate about. He recycles old materials to make way for new products, like this birdhouse.

“I try not to waste anything,” he says.

After working in remodeling, repairs and dabbling in contracting as his day jobs, Caldwell says that he can’t help always being hands on and trying to create something new and different.

“Our whole family has been full of artists and builders, so I kind of got it all blended into me,” he says. “That’s why I have so many projects going on at once. I’ll never exactly retire because I’m a workaholic,” he says, laughing.

Caldwell says that he plans on continuing to make croquet sets as long as people are buying them. The Eugene Saturday Market has been the ideal place for him to test out his products, get people interested and just to gain experience selling.

“We get a lot of public exposure from it, and it’s kind of fun to sit and chat with people and learn how to sell things,” he says. “It’s definitely a community. And I’ve never really been a salesman before but now I’m learning how to do it. It’s easy when it’s your own project and you know all about it.”

Though he says that weather sometimes can be an issue with the Market, he’s happy with what he has experienced overall and what he’s gained from being a part of it.

“Just the color and the variety, the good food, music going on, people having fun,” he says. “You’re never bored.”

Caldwell and Cro-Magnon Croquet sets can be found online on Etsy and at Eugene Saturday Market.

Interviewee: Jenn Savage, of Savage Expedition Gear
Interviewer: Samantha Thom

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your survival gear?

A: That would be my husband. I think after living in Costa Rica we were in the jungle, and so it was about being prepared. He was always messing around with this paracord stuff but he didn’t want to just carry it around everywhere. So he started looking it up, and he found that very few people make it into belts because of the certain weave that some people do, it takes forever to make and to undo which is not very practical in a survival situation. He got the idea of using snare wire and a fire-starter stick so you can have snares to catch animals and you can make fish hooks, that kind of thing.

Q: Why did you choose to sell at Eugene Saturday Market? Was it a way to test to see if people would buy your products, or is it where you wanted to be?

A: It is very good feedback. We thought this is a unique product and it does qualify with the regulations to get into it. Some markets there’s a waiting list and you really can’t get in, but the way they have it with the point system gives new vendors a good chance. So I think just the fact that we were in the area, it was about to start, we had a new product, it was like, why would we not do this? It’s really good instant feedback. If you have a website you may not hear anything but when people can look at it, pick it up, feel it and decide they really like it, then it’s great.

Q: How is your perception of the Market different as a customer versus as a vendor?

A: Oh it’s hugely different. Before I think, growing up, I felt kind of uncomfortable going to markets because if I wanted to look at something I felt like I had to buy it because the vendors are standing right there. I liked the atmosphere and just being able to walk around. It’s a great activity on a beautiful day to go see these cool things that people create. But the pricing, I don’t think you understand from a customer’s point of view why things might be more expensive there than in the store because it’s like, ‘oh you made this’. But at the same time you have to count all the hours you put into that, and the hours you spent just coming up with this idea. I don’t think I realized the time and that you have to add that to the value of the product. Also being there, it’s definitely a community. You get to meet new people week after week and you become obsessed with the weather, too. If it was your livelihood I feel like it would affect you a lot more and a lot differently, whereas it’s different for us in that I have a job and we have the website.

Q: It’s become more common for people to struggle in this economy spending money to make their own goods and sell them, while still being able to make money. Have you dealt with any economical challenges with your products?
A: I haven’t personally been affected, but I can understand it. I mean my mother-in-law makes soaps and sells them at Market and she puts high quality, expensive ingredients into them. So that’s a lot of cost into her product. But ours was a relatively low start-up cost. We just had to buy the colors, buckles, wire, minimal things. And we started selling them quickly enough that we were out of the negative and into the positive. I think the difference is low start-up and our product is a practical thing. Like some things at market look beautiful but you just put them on a shelf or something and you can’t use them all the time. Whereas this, it’s practical, you can use it, and it’s cool. So we haven’t had that experience, we’ve been fortunate in that way.

Q: Is there anything you’d change about the Market, and how would you do that if you could?
A: With the Holiday Market, in the winter time, since you have to accrue points the year before, based on this year we don’t have an in at the Holiday Market. It’s a bummer because the Holiday Market sales are huge. It’s two days a weekend and people are there to buy for gifts. My mother-in-law’s sales double and triple every day of what she usually sells. So we’re bummed that it doesn’t work differently in the fact that we can’t do anything about this year unless they have some open spots and we can be in a random drawing. So… I mean you don’t want a market that’s only based on sales, like on performance, because then you don’t have the hodgepodge that you do. But in a sense it would be nice if there was a way to differentiate between different vendors for those open spots, I guess.

Q: Do you think selling at the Market is something you’ll continue to do in the future?

A: We’re planning on doing it always, or at least as we can see it right now. We like it.

A Slice of Market Life

By: Samantha Thom

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