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Outdoor bazaar under construction on East End

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It was known as the worst corner on the East End.

Just a few years ago, police sirens were common at the intersection of Ruffner Avenue and Washington Street. Convenience store owner Joe Shawkey covered his windows with plywood to try to keep out the crime.

But the change rippling through the East End, spurred by East End Main Street and the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority, has stretched down Washington Street to Ruffner.

With its streetscape program, CURA poured new sidewalks, hid utility lines, installed new lights and planted trees. Dozens of small businesses, using East End Main Street façade and sign grants, spiffed up their storefronts -- particularly near the Capitol.

The latest project started to take shape a couple of weeks ago, when Main Street volunteers began building an outdoor artisan market -- the East End Bazaar -- on the northwest corner of Ruffner and Washington. The former site of Strait's Laundry is now owned by CURA.

"The idea is we're going to make the corner much nicer," said Ned Savage, an Americorps Vista volunteer. "Someone will get interested and develop it. We'll pick [the market] up and move it to the next site.

Son of "Thunder in the Mountains" author Lon Savage and a native of Roanoke, Va., Savage will manage the bazaar as part of his one-year assignment with East End Main Street, director Ric Cavender said.

The bazaar, loosely modeled after the Eastern Market in Washington, will be open weekends only for seven months a year -- April to October -- starting in September, Cavender said.

Each Saturday and Sunday, 10 local artisans and entrepreneurs will sell their wares in booths they rent by the day. Regular 10- by 12-foot booths rent for $25; two double-size anchor booths go for $50.

"We're hoping to get a rotation [of vendors], so people will see different people every time they come. We want to get as much variation as we can."

Potential vendors will have to fill out an application to be approved, Cavender said. Information should be available at the group's website this week. See charlestoneastend.com.

"What I think will set this apart from the other artisan markets is it will be handmade stuff, hopefully self-made," he said. "But we also want to open it up to businesses -- incubator space for entrepreneurs, or for existing businesses. We would give preference to an East End business that wants to showcase a product."

Savage has been using social media to organize work parties for the bazaar, Cavender said. "Our Facebook page has over 2,200 friends. We were able to cultivate an audience for the bazaar through Facebook, and Ned is able to get volunteers through social media like Facebook and Twitter."

In three days since June 23, volunteers logged over 100 man-hours in building 2x4 forms for the concrete floors of the three open-air "buildings" -- two market spaces and a stage. A crew from Frontier Communications will soon be digging about 70 holes needed for the concrete footers for the wooden beams.

Husband-and-wife architectural design team Geoff and Emma Plagemann worked out details of the project, refining the conceptual plan of Mike Gioulis, a frequent Main Street consultant. Geoff works with the city Planning Deparment, Emma with architects Silling Associates.

The goal was to make the market as sustainable and portable and possible, in case CURA sells the property to a developer, Cavender said.

"It's primarily constructed of wood posts, pallets, corrugated metal roofing and concrete. There are no backs on the booths but there are sides. The stage will have a back to project sound, but no sides. It will have a very clean look."

Gioulis came up with the post-and-beam concept, Geoff Plagemann said. "What Emma and I did was figure out how that would work, sized it out and how the connections will go together."

They met with city Building Commissioner Tony Harmon about a month ago. "It's not a complicated structure but, because it's a commercial structure, we had to build it to city building codes."

They laughed when they learned the buildings would have to withstand hurricane-force winds, Plagemann said. They're not laughing any more. "As designed it should have held up in those [recent] winds," he said.

Shed-like roofs will slope from 10 feet high in front to 9 feet in the rear, and recycled pallets will from metal brackets between the booths. "They're there for the vendors. They can hang stuff from them, or paint them if they want."

Two long vendor buildings will sit at right angles to each other on the west and north edges of the site. The stage will go in between at an angle, beneath a large shade tree.

Savage is looking for musicians to perform, for free. "We're going to schedule at least one artist for each market day. When they're not performing, we'll have an open mic. We have no electricity, so it will be all acoustic."

Main Street has a $30,000 budget this year for construction and advertising, including $5,000 from CURA for a security fence. Sponsors like Frontier, Pray Constuction and Mark Wolfe Design are donating services, and the project won Governor's Innovation awards among Main Street programs for the last two years, Cavender said.

"The first year was for construction and a market plan. In the second year we're going to look into solar panels to provide extra lighting, and landscaping," he said.

East End Main Street board members were well aware of the Washington/Ruffner corner's reputation when they chose the site for the bazaar, Cavender said.

"You can continue to focus your efforts at one corner," but the prime intersection at Elizabeth Street is already booming, he said.

"We as an organization saw a need. We looked at that lot as being a way to make a contribution. This is the next big step in the revitalization of the East End. You've already seen reinvestment there."

He ticked off Gino's, Leonoro's, West Virginia Health Right and the Religious Coalition for Community Renewal, along with other projects up and down the street. Health Right and RCCR have agreed to let bazaar patrons park in their lots, he said.

"It was the largest parcel we had, and we felt like it was time to take the renaissance farther down the street."

And should a developer decide that's a great place to build, say, a small grocery store, Main Street folks will simply find another location. CURA can reclaim the site with a few months' notice.

"I'd say up to 90 percent of the lumber and hardware can be picked up and moved," Plagemann said.

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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