A year later, Easton Public Market is popular with families, foodies

Jennifer Sheehan/The Morning Call - Rebecca Keller stacked up an assortment of delicate pastries to tempt customers as they walked by her stand at the Easton Public Market.

Keller, the manager and head baker of Barred & Broody Bakeshop, will proudly tell you her croissants, Danish and other baked deliciousness are handmade, using locally sourced ingredients.

Locally produced food is the engine that runs Easton Public Market, an indoor food-focused market just off Centre Square. It will mark its one-year anniversary on Saturday.

Over the course of its first year, only one of the market's 14 vendors left — and the market has no vacancies. Retail analyst Jeff Green says that's unusual.

The market fits nicely in with Easton's plans to become more of a tourist destination. Officials envision hundreds of thousands families visiting the city for a proposed $130 million science center/aquarium, stopping in at Crayola Experience and eating at the market and several upscale restaurants within a block of Centre Square.

Challenges for the public market remain — chiefly parking and confusion over hours of operation. But it's clearly been a success.

About 5,000 people visit the market weekly. Many are families with kids who enjoy the array of dining options. The 16,000-square-foot market is unique in the Valley, offering options such as a whole-animal butcher, a fishmonger and a farmstand selling local produce.

It also features dining options such as Texas barbecue, artisan pizza, Egyptian cuisine and a ramen bar owned by a James Beard Award-nominated chef. Visitors also can enjoy locally made craft beer and wine.

Other attractions include a kids play area and cooking classes in the market's kitchen.

"We had a vision and the community embraced it," said Megan McBride, who heads the market.

It did take time to turn that vision into reality.

The city gave the project a jump start in 2013, with $1 million to buy the former Weller Center.

Demolition work started in 2014, and construction began in earnest in 2015. The opening date was moved forward several times, as more businesses were signed up, said Jared Mast, executive director of the Greater Easton Development Partnership, which headed the project.

Then in 2016 a neighboring building partially collapsed during intense thunderstorms, halting the final construction work.

"It was a final hiccup," Mast said.

The market opened on April 15, 2016 with a ribbon-cutting led by Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr.

"It's safe to say that Easton is the premier food city," Panto said last week. "People are coming to Easton to experience our food culture — and that's important."

One complaint has been about parking. There's no free parking at the market or near it, which means visitors have to seek a metered space or use one of two nearby city garages.

The market's mix of dining and retail food vendors has created challenges for the market's operating hours. The market's hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. As the year went on, some of the retailers and dining vendors wanted earlier or later hours to accommodate customers.

A number of vendors, including Fieldstone Coffee Roasters & Tea, butcher Dundore & Heister, and Barred & Broody are open for breakfast at 8 a.m. daily. Mister Lee's Noodles is open till 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Scratch, Tolino's Vineyards, The Taza Stop and Chocodiem are open till 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Many of the customers visiting the market are in their 30s and 40s with children.

The community dining area lets parents eat and have a craft beer or glass of red wine while their kids play in the children's area. "Not all families can really handle a sit-down restaurant format with kids," said Green, the retail analyst. "It takes too long and kids have to sit."

The market offers cooking classes for kids, allowing parents to browse or relax with a cup of coffee while their kids make healthful meals.

Fridays are a particularly busy night at the market, with families marking the end of the work week with food and drinks. The market plans to build on this later this year by adding outdoor seating at the back entrance.

While there are no vacancies, McBride said she'd like to see a salad or smoothie vendor should a space open up.

Michael and Melissa Annunziata of Forks Township, regulars at the market, were enjoying lunch at the market on a recent Friday.

Melissa Annunziata was enjoying a bowl of "dirty noodles" from Mister Lee's. "We are taking advantage of kids in school today," she said.

Michael Annunziata, digging into a crepe loaded with Nutella and strawberries, said it gets better every time he comes.

"I'm going to need a second stomach," he said.