A Guide to the Portland Saturday Market

There are many reasons people visit Portland and while they’re here, many of them take a trip to Portland Saturday Market. This once-a-week event is home to exquisite food, art, crafts, live entertainment, quirkiness, and some magnificent views over Portland’s bridges. Just like the city itself, Portland Saturday Market is laid-back, fun, and informal. It doesn’t matter if you’re there to grab some food, find an ideal gift for a loved one or just sight-seeing, Portland Saturday Market has it all.

When: Saturdays 10:00 – 5:00
Where: Tom McCall Waterfront Park, 98 SW Naito Pkway, Portland, OR 97204
Cost: Free
Telephone: 503-222-6072/971-865-0382
Admin/Mailing Address PO Box 4814 Portland, Oregon, 97208

About Portland Saturday Market

People at Portland Saturday Market

Portland Saturday Market is known nationally as the largest open-air arts and crafts market with continuous operation in the United States and the city is proud of the space that allows people from all over the Pacific Northwest to sell their handmade foods, crafts, and art.

There are more than 150 booths at the market, each showcasing local arts and crafts. In fact, there are more than 300 artisans who come to the market regularly, many of whom have been coming since the market was established during the 1970s.

The market runs each Saturday between March and December from its Chinatown/Old Town location.

The staff at the market spend each Saturday morning delegating booth spaces for vendors with precision, as they have done for decades. Most of the local neighborhoods think of the market with fondness. There are, however, some unusual elements at its core!

The History of Portland Saturday Market

Portland Saturday Market History

Back in 1973, two female artists Andrea Scharf and Sheri Teasdale were used to traveling to Eugene’s Saturday Market to sell their art. They had the idea of creating something similar in downtown Portland. At the end of 1973, Andrea and Sheri visited lots of different people to propose their idea of a market selling crafts and food in the open-air. They assured all that it would be a win-win for everyone as local artists would be able to sell their work, consumers would have improved access to local products, and Portland itself would have an attraction to draw in visitors.

This new organization was created as a mutual benefit corporation under Oregon law. This meant it was in a special class of non-profit institutions that exist to benefit their members. Essentially, it is a non-profit organization, but it is not tax-exempt. Andrea and Sheri could have set it up as a profitable venture, but they envisaged craftspeople collectively sharing the running of the market while keeping their own profits. All in all, it was a members’ market that was governed by the members. Teasdale and Scharf applied for a start-up grant and were awarded $1000 by the Metropolitan Arts Council.

Outside seating at Portland Saturday Market

The next job was to secure a location. Family-business owner Bill Naito suggested a spot in the Butterfly parking lot near to his business. This parking lot, adorned with a blue butterfly mural, would be the site of Portland Saturday Market for many years to come.

During the first year of opening, the market had no site plan, and members would set up wherever they chose, but as the market began to grow, the site saw vendors arriving earlier and earlier in order to claim a spot they liked. So, from the start of the season in 1975, there was a rule that people weren’t allowed to claim their spot until 7:00 am.

Just a few short weeks later, the first site plan was drawn up, marking aisles, booth spaces measuring 8’ x 8’ and a direction for customer travel.

A new site

With the market’s increasing success, it moved underneath the Burnside Bridge from 1976. It began opening on Sundays too. This site was the Portland Saturday Market’s home for a total of 34 years before Portland Old Town was redeveloped in 2006 and a permanent location was built for the market in Waterfront Park, which opened in 2009.

From its early days, there have been many changes. Nowadays there are more than 350 market members and between them, they generate around $8 million each year in gross sales.

Portland Saturday Market is a central economic engine in Portland’s Old Town/Chinatown and brings in around a million visitors to the neighborhood every year.

Not everything has changed

Portland Saturday Market couldn’t have started without the help of the Naito family or Portland city itself. The market relies on these partnerships as much as it did all of those years ago. The board of directors has continued to be made up of members of the market, which means the market’s governance remains in their hands. Additionally, there is now extra admin staff to assist with the operations. This includes ten part-time staff and seven full-time staff.

The goods at the market are still sold by craftspeople themselves so, no matter how huge the market has got, it is still a place for artists to go and showcase their work and earn a living.

How to get to Portland Saturday Market

With so many great methods of transport in the city, you’re spoilt for choice on how to get to the market. Let’s look at a few different ways.

By bike

Cycling in Portland Oregon

Portlanders love cycling and the number of cyclists in the city is growing year on year. There is plenty of bike parking right in Waterfront Park near the red information truck located on SW Naito Pkway and there is more near to the main stage on the park esplanade too.

For people visiting without their bikes who fancy a ride to the market, Portland is excellent in terms of bike rental and there are loads of rental shops throughout the city.

TriMet Bus or MAX Light Rail

Take a TriMet bus or take a ride on the MAX light rail. Get off at Skidmore Foundation Station. You’ll find the market vendors west of the MAX light rail track beginning at the Skidmore Fountain in Ankeny Plaza, though SW Naito Pkway, right to North Waterfront Park, right up to Burnside Bridge.

One great thing about using these methods of transport is that your ticket back is free if you buy things totaling $25 or more at the market. All you need to do is visit the red info trailer.

By car

If you live too far out to travel by bus, train or bike, there are parking lots close to the market. There is also a SmartPark garage within a few blocks. Parking fees are validated for two hours at the SmartPark garage at 123 SW Jefferson St. if you spend $25 or more from market vendors.

Vendors at Portland Saturday Market

Vendors at the Portland Saturday Market

With over 350 vendors joining Portland Saturday Market, you’re bound to find something of interest. There are jewelry makers, pottery artisans, and woodworkers. You’ll also find people selling handmade cutlery, baby slings, stationery, handmade puzzles, and even novelty boxer shorts. If you can think of it, it’ll probably be there!

There are not just vendors selling arts and crafts, though. You’ll also find household items, packaged food, ready-to-eat food, bakery items, tea, coffee, candy, and much more to buy for consumption at home.

As well as things you can purchase, there are lots of things to entertain you including live entertainment and live music.

The market has a main stage featuring musicians playing their own, original music. Most of this is acoustic music.

As well as all of the things to entertain and amuse the adults, Portland Saturday Market is home to Kids’ Korner, which brings in fun things to do for younger visitors to the market. Sometimes Portland Art Museum will lead an activity, other times you might see holiday activities or a puppet show. There are regular changes to the line-up.

Food for sale at Portland Saturday Market

Saturday Market Portland, Oregon

Portland is already known for its excellent food scene, and Portland Saturday Market is no exception. There is a massive variety of different foods for sale at the market, with tastes from all around the world. The Market website has a list of all vendors so you can see what you fancy before you head over. Or, you could just have a wander until you find something you fancy trying! Either way, plan to be hungry when you visit, as you’ll want to try so many delicious things on offer.

Here are some ideas of the foods you can have at Portland Saturday Market:

          Empanadas

          Greek Gyros

          Nepalese

          Lebanese

          Thai

          Polish

          Northeast African

          And many more!

And for dessert, why not try some artisan ice cream or kettle corn?

In our experience, the best way to do it is to try lots of smaller things instead of one large meal so that you can experience lots of new tastes.

If you don’t want to get food at the market, you’re really close by to some excellent restaurants and food outlets. These include the famous VooDoo Doughnuts on the corner of Ankeny and SW 3rd.

Final thoughts

Whatever your reasons for visiting Portland, be sure to visit this iconic market. It’s easy to spend a whole day there! Be prepared to be in awe of the natural talent the Portland Saturday Market vendors have. There are some exceptional pieces and you’re sure to want to take something home with you! Overall, Portland Saturday Market is simply a great place to find high-quality art, food, drink, flowers, and other household items in a friendly, unique setting.

 

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