Managers energy helps Cornelius Market blossom

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JOHN SCHRAG - Rebecka Smith and her assistant, 16-year-old Rebecca Reeves of Forest Grove, tell a customer about a a special on Fourth of July fireworks.Before she started managing it in May, Cornelius resident Rebecka Smith had never actually attended the Cornelius Market.”

It’s been so small, it never grabbed my attention,” said Smith, who took over as market manager last month and has already quintupled its size, bringing in everything from plants, produce, jewelry and jerky to handmade soaps, soy-based goods, sno-cones and more.

Previous manager Brenda Kintz, Smith’s old high school teacher, reached out to Smith before stepping down due to health problems.

“She’s a great lady. She’s fighting cancer and it’s just too much to take this on too,” said Smith, who honed her outreach skills at Straight Ahead Shelter, where she worked as resource coordinator and managed a boys’ group. There, in order to raise money for activities and Christmas presents, Smith organized spaghetti feeds, car washes, a Dachsund Derby and door-to-door sales campaigns.

Now in charge of the market, Smith is actively seeking vendors, including any business owners trying to “better themselves and make it,” she said.

Smith has attended every farmers market in the county, as well as in downtown Portland, handing out flyers and letting people know about the Cornelius Market, located in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

“It’s a little slow, but all new markets start out that way,” said James Crawford of Crawford’s Produce, which hosts the market’s only produce booth so far. “Last year we didn’t make much at all, but this year it’s really picking up. It can turn into a very good market.”After peaking at 20 several years ago, the Cornelius Market’s booths dwindled to three — until Smith’s efforts built them back up to 15. Customers have increased as well, with 300 to 400 strolling through June 9, Smith estimated.

Part of the credit for the healthy crowd goes to volunteers from the Little League team Smith coaches, the Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies. Smith has enlisted the girls to stand near Wal-Mart’s doors and point people towards the market.

Smith also plans to set up a booth July 19 at Viasystems’ Health and Wellness Fair to spark the interest of their 711 employees.

Between Wal-Mart shoppers and regular attendees, the market’s customers are ethnically diverse, with about a 50-50 mix of Hispanics and Caucasians, Smith said.

But numbers can still fluctuate. June 16, for example, both vendor and customer attendance dropped because of Father’s Day, she said.

“It’s hard because people want to sell at a market that’s established,” said Smith.

Even 15 vendors is still not enough, Crawford said. “The better variety, the more people will come,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with a little competition.”

Smith agrees and has set a goal for 30 to 40 booths by July. She is even considering changing the market day. At least four vendors have told her they could attend if the market weren’t on Sunday, when they’re busy with the Orenco Farmers Market in Hillsboro.

A new day was partly responsible for the success of Forest Grove’s market, said Brian Wilbur, who managed that market in its early days, when it drew small crowds to a Pacific University parking lot on Saturday mornings.

“What was hard for us was the competition,” said Wilbur, who found vendors too busy with markets in Portland and Hillsboro to come to Forest Grove. “You’re competing against a higher density area,” he said.

Changing the market to Wednesday nights freed up vendors, Wilbur said, and a new downtown Forest Grove location raised its profile.

“I think a lot of them start out small,” Wilbur said. “It just takes time.”

Smith hopes to hurry things up a bit. “I’m trying to run a successful business,” she said. “We’re going to keep improving.”

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