PUBLISHED: 4:52 PM on Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Thanksgiving in Juneau means... Public Market
Annual event attracts vendors from across Alaska and beyond

Photo by Sarah Conarro
  Alex Erichson, seventh grader in the Adolescent Montessori Program, holds a jar of homemade chocolate chip cookie mix. It's his first year involved in the Public Market, and the program's second.
Thanksgiving weekend is here, marking the 24th annual Alaska-Juneau Public Market at Centennial Hall. As all of the 175 vendors busily prepare, the Adolescent Montessori Program (AMP) organizes as second year participants in the market. Dayna Weiler, teacher of these energetic seventh and eighth graders, explains the purpose in her students renting a booth, "The students have their own business to learn marketing skills. It's a class, a business and the money we make goes towards our end of the year odyssey."

The Public Market has been held at the Centennial Hall since Peter Metcalfe, native Juneau-ite, originally organized it in 1983. Last year the event expanded to include a Public Market Annex at the nearby Alaska-Native Brotherhood Hall. "There are vendors from Barrow to Metlakatla, spanning the entire state of Alaska. This year represented in the market are about thirty Alaskan communities and eight communities from the lower 48 from New Mexico, Colorado, and Hawaii," Metcalfe said.

The vendors sell a wide range of items including arts and crafts, specially designed clothing, books, photographs, smoked salmon, handcrafted knives, furniture, and fresh food. The variety is broad and should cover at least one small something needed for the holiday season. So what is the young business from AMP selling this year? "We have hand-crocheted hats that we made, cookie mix in jars and hot cocoa mix with butterfingers and marshmallows. I mostly crocheted hats, but I helped with the hot chocolate mix too," Alex Erichson, seventh grader and first time Public Marketer, said.

The cookie and hot cocoa mixes are an expansion from last year's hats. Caitlin Chalmers, eighth grader, has one year of working at the Public Market under her belt. "I enjoy the independence of running our own business. We're trying to go to Whitehorse at the end of the year for our arts-based odyssey. It's one week in the school year that we get to spend time together while taking drama, art, and music classes," she said.

When asked the expectations for this year's market, Weiler joked, "To break even! No really they're working on their salesmanship skills-being more friendly with customers and not so...scared!"

Metcalfe met the new marketers last year, calling them an "enthusiastic bunch. Just by being there the kids are immersed in a scene with many experienced marketers, many who travel around Alaska doing this for their living. Being a traveling salesman is an interesting subculture and I hope the students will observe them and learn from their surroundings."

With all of the marketing knowledge their gaining, does the idea of going into the crocheted hat, cookie and hot cocoa mix business for life strike a chord of interest for Caitlin and Alex? "Not particularly," said Caitlin, "But perhaps a bookstore featuring imaginative books."

Alex also replied, "No, I'd rather sell sportswear."

Even so, the kids are masterful crocheters.

The Public Market will be held November 24, 25, 26 at Centennial Hall (Friday noon to 8 p.m./ Saturday & Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5p.m.). The 2nd annual Public Market Annex will be held, Friday and Saturday only, at the nearby Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall (Friday noon to 8 p.m./Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.).