Public market readies for its Kennewick debut

There have been plenty of efforts to bring a public market to the Tri-Cities. But after years of talk, an all-private effort with 70 vendors, including Ice Harbor Brewery and Columbia Industries’ Opportunity Kitchen, is about to open in Kennewick.

The Public Market @ Columbia River Warehouse is set to debut its first phase in May in the former Welch’s-J. Lieb Foods campus straddling Bruneau Avenue, said Kelsey Bitton, project and property manager.

The market is an ambitious and timely remaking of a property that once anchored Kennewick’s industrial downtown.

The former juice plant has operated under several names, including Welch’s, and was put on the market in 2019 after the most recent manufacturer, J. Lieb Foods Inc., was purchased by Refresco Beverages USA.

Columbia River Warehouse LLC, led by Corey Bitton of Pasco, closed the $2.7 million purchase in 2021.

Kelsey Bitton said the initial plan was to lease it to a larger business but turned to the market concept to generate cash flow after larger plans collapsed when financing dried up.

“Obviously, from a business standpoint, the owner needed to lease it out,” she said.

And downtown Kennewick seemed like a natural place to start, despite long-standing efforts to create a market on the Pasco side of the Columbia River.

The old J. Lieb-Welch’s property was not designed as a public market, but it does not need a lot of work to convert. And it has the critical elements a public facility needs – fire sprinklers and ample power to support vendors, as well as restaurants and small producers.

“We don’t really have anything like that in the Tri-Cities. We don’t have that many buildings in the Tri-Cities with that downtown, industrial warehouse feel. That’s very in right now.”

With a public market, it caters to small businesses that can launch without loans.

In the first phase, vendors can choose between three-, six- or 12-month leases on spaces in cage-like booths in the former production area.

Future phases will drop the three-month option. Rents range from 60 cents a square foot to more than $2.60, depending on amenities in the vendor’s space.

Most vendors are obligated to be open during the market’s business hours of 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays, with extended hours in the summer.

Several stalls are reserved for weekend-only vendors such as out-of-town businesses that aren’t based nearby.

Samantha Crook, a West Richland entrepreneur who makes customized dresses with pockets, is leasing a double-sided space for her business, Mama On Tap, which she launched in 2020 to make apparel suited for breastfeeding moms.

She began making the rounds of local markets in 2021, dragging her inventory from spot to spot.

She’s thrilled and a tad nervous to join a new market, where her stall will have a work area as well as retail zone.

“It’s going to be a big, exciting thing,” she said.

The sprawling juice plant straddles East Bruneau Avenue, sitting between Kennewick’s traditional downtown and the emerging waterfront district. Bitton said the three-acre yard, currently covered with equipment, will be cleared to create parking for up to 350 vehicles.

The southern building will serve as a mall-type building housing restaurants, stores, the market and an eventual event center. Warehouses to the north will be repurposed for wineries, florists and businesses that attract customers but need room to make their products.

The first phase will open with 80 stalls.

Ice Harbor Brewery is relocating its nearby pub and brewery to roughly 15,000 square feet in the west end of the market building, citing the need for space at its Benton Street quarters. Owners Bill Jaquish and Mike Hall began working to outfit the new space several months ago. By late January, the cooler was in the “new” building, where it is taking over the former cafeteria and other production space.

The brewery’s Clover Island site isn’t affected.

Columbia Industries, the nonprofit serving Tri-Citians with special needs, will operate an outpost of its Opportunity Kitchen in a 12-by-12 stall. The market is the perfect place for Columbia Industries to share its story with the public, said Eric Van Winkle, interim CEO, and Marie Lathim, chief administrative and human resources officer.

Other vendors cover a range of public market type businesses, including tarot card readers, plant vendors and others selling produce, clothing, snacks, jewelry and crafts.

“Everything you’d find in a public market,” she said.

Follow the market on Facebook @PublicMarketCRW.

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