Public market alive and thriving in Portland

Posted Nov. 25, 2011, at 5:07 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — When the Portland Public Market closed down in 2006, Kris Horton and a couple of other vendors couldn’t let the dream of an inner-city market die.

“None of us really wanted to go and set up shop on our own, so it was either choosing to close or rebuild something in terms of what we believed in,” she said.

What they believed in became the Public Market House, a small-scale community gathering place that houses seven vendors and a community kitchen at 28 Monument Square. An eighth vendor is moving in soon.

“Our No. 1 goal is incubating small businesses, bringing fresh products into the center of the city,” said Horton, who runs a gourmet cheese and produce shop on the market’s first floor. Other businesses on the first floor are Big Sky Breads and a beer-and-beverage seller.

The market expanded to a second floor two years ago. Vendors include Kamasouptra soups, Pie in the Sky pizza and an espresso bar. Granny’s Burritos, which closed its restaurant in the Old Port a couple years ago, recently came back to life at the Public Market.

The market also promotes local artists. This month Portland photographer Kevin Paul Ouellette’s large, black-and-white portraits of the city’s homeless are on display. On a recent afternoon another photographer sold her work from a table rented for $10 a day.

The market counts on more than 80 Maine growers, producers and makers to supply their shops.

“We don’t view ourselves as competing with Whole Foods or Hannaford. We don’t have a chance,” said Horton. “But on the other hand, they wouldn’t want to be doing what we’re doing. We deal with suppliers who are very seasonal, very irregular with their products, with very small quantities.”

In the five years that they’ve been open, eight businesses have gotten their start at the Public Market. Four of those have moved on to bigger locations.

“It’s a joy and a sadness because it puts us in a precarious position each time [a vendor leaves]. But that’s our mission,” she said.