Twenty years ago this spring, Denise and I got our first reserved booth space at Saturday Market. It meant we could start setting up earlier, be finished before I had to leave to prepare for my 10 am radio show. It was a nice location, on the curb facing the East Lawn, easy to load in and shady in summer. Nearly perfect, except…
…that it faced the east lawn. Which was lovely and quiet in the morning, progressively more crowded with picnickers towards lunchtime, and drum circles as the afternoon progressed. Around 3 pm, the drug dealers showed up. Pot, mostly, but there were also little bags of what was probably meth, possibly--1996, remember--crack. We complained to staff of course--I was not
about to let Denise confront the dealers, though she was mad enough to try. But Market was doing its own security back then, mostly volunteers and a few staff. Able to handle panhandlers, dogs, unregistered vendors and the obviously intoxicated; completely unready for anything else. I started sending Denise to the library in the afternoons, and resigned myself to the fact that I might as well close up shop at 3 pm, because nobody was going to come shopping through that
We complained all year. The next year, they created a new reserved space, just for us, around the corner on South Park. They also hired a professional security company to patrol, and to begin the laborious task of cleaning things up. Somewhere in there, Eugene outlawed drug paraphernalia, and Market banned selling of pipes and bongs. And I spent a lot of energy explaining to people that Market vendors weren't just a bunch of hippies and drug dealers (okay, some
hippies) but a lot of serious artisans and small business owners trying to make a legitimate living. We were clean, we were respectable, we were safe for the kind of middle-class, middle-aged ladies (and it was
ladies, overwhelmingly, back then) who wanted to buy pottery with chickens painted on it.Fast forward twenty years…
Oregon legalized recreational marijuana last year. Holiday Market decided to allow limited sale of pipes and bongs last year, no more than 25% of your booth product, in a closed case. This spring, the Board revisited the decision, and voted to rescind all restrictions on pipes and bongs. At the same time, the city moved to crack down on unlicensed vendors selling on the courthouse square on the block adjacent to Saturday and Farmers Markets. So a bunch of folks came across the street, bought memberships, and joined Saturday Market.
Great, huh? More memberships, new members, finally paying their share to the Market whose coattails they'd been riding on all these years.
Except… twice last month, I've had pipes-only vendors set up next door, one selling glass, one stone, both kind of first-rung in terms of craftsmanship. First-rung presentation, too: folding tables, no roof--even in the rain--hand-written cardboard signage. A definite barter-fair vibe. Both days, my sales sucked
Admittedly, the weather didn't help, that first rainy day. But I saw more than one customer come around the corner, see the pipe display--with no roof, it was the most obvious thing on the block--and visibly decide to turn back, that nothing interested them on this stretch. Those who did come by were only
interested in pipes. None of the other vendors even got a second look. And after 23 years, someone finally asked if they could smoke with one of my dragon incense burners. "After all, you're in the bong zone."
I'm not sure what I think about this. What effect it will have on the vast majority of artisans trying to make a legitimate living at their small business. In my head, I know it's legal. I know the middle-class, middle-aged women (and men) who buy my work now were in college in the 60s and 70s, and probably did
inhale. They're not going to be as frightened off by pipes and bongs as their counterparts of twenty years ago.
But in my gut, I'm still back on East Lawn in 1996, watching as potential customers turn the corner, scope out the scene, then turn around and walk away again.