By Jenny Neyman
Piña coladas weren’t among the many food, drink, arts and crafts options for sale, but there was the song, and people getting caught in the rain, who liked being out anyway.
“It was terribly rainy all day, but then it did clear up and got really nice. We did see a few people out here,” said Tami Murray, director of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.
Attendance was, admittedly, a little low for the kickoff of the Wednesday Market and Live after Five music series at Soldotna Creek Park on June 3, but Murray attributed that to the weather and it being early in the season, rather than any lack of potential for the event to be hugely popular.
“It was a good night, and I know through the summer it’s just going to get bigger and bigger and bigger,” she said.
After all, what’s not to like? A variety of artisans and food vendors selling their wares from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., live music throughout the day and featured musicians from 6 to 9 p.m., a beer garden including offerings from local breweries, plus all the usual draws of the park.
“There’s something for everybody to do here, we’ve got the kids’ park right there and then the river, of course, is just beautiful. So once the fishermen get here I know it’s going to be a great venue and a great place for people to hang out. It’s free for everyone to come,” Murray said. “Just giving these vendors a little boost is kind of what it’s all about. And then, of course, the town, too — trying to get some more people to come to Soldotna, and the music might be that draw.”
Annette Villa, who organizes the Wednesday Market, is thrilled to be back by the river after having to move to the Peninsula Center Mall last summer while the city finished its major overhaul of the park.
“I like it that the river’s right behind us, we’ve got a nice set of bathrooms now, we’ve got the stage that just sounds awesome, as you can hear. I love the park that they have over there for the kids,” Villa said. “It’s just an all-around awesome place to be as a family, and that’s what I think Soldotna and the Kenai Peninsula represents is a place for families to raise their kids in a really great environment. I think that the Soldotna Creek Park represents that.”
She had 18 vendors open during the day, many of whom stayed all the way through the music until 9 p.m., and expects the market to continue to grow.
“It’s very exciting. We’ve got music all day long and a variety of vendors — food vendors, craft vendors, all kinds, artisans, fresh produce from Alaska. That’s my vision for it is something for everyone at the market on Wednesdays,” Villa said.
It does make for a long day for the vendors, like Katherine Gauden, the crystal lady of custom nugget jewelry, who was at the park from 9 a.m. setting up to after 9 p.m. to take down her tent. But long days spent outside is what this time of year is for.
“It’s summer, all days are long. We get lots of days to hibernate in the winters,” Gauden said.
She’s been selling her wares at markets, festivals and fares for 25 years now, 22 years in Alaska. Having the Wednesday Market, and others in the area, is a boon for her business.
“When I first started the only market was downtown Anchorage Saturday Market, and those I did for eight years, but those were some long hours. So I enjoy our local markets, I’m staying right on the peninsula,” she said.
Customer traffic was a little slow Wednesday, but Gauden didn’t let that, or the rain, dampen her mood.
“It was still better than what it would be during the winter, which is nothing, so every little bit helps,” she said.
Mika Day and Chris Pepper were the musicians June 3. The Denali Cooks are scheduled to perform June 24, but, for the most part, the entertainment will be provided by locals — the Pepper Shakers and Conway Seavey were on the docket for June 10, with Holly and Bryan Hanson, Jessica Roper, Hunter Hanson and Katie Evans set to play June 17. That’s music to Pepper’s ears.
“I like to play whenever so I just kind of said, ‘OK, when and where? I’d love to do it.’ I think it’s really good because the main thing is there’s a lot of talent around here and a lot of people who want to listen to music, and a lot of people who want to play their music, and it’s hard to do,” Pepper said. “And this gives a great, positive place for people to come and share what they have and people to listen and just talk and have fun by the river.”
Vendor applications for the market and a full schedule of musicians will be available on the Soldotna Chamber’s website at visitsoldotna.com, or visit the Summertime in Soldotna page on Facebook.