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River Market celebrates openings

The busy summer season is in the books for the River Market on New Westminster Quay, but the best may be yet to come as organizers are preparing for several new additions to the market in the coming weeks.

The busy summer season is in the books for the River Market on New Westminster Quay, but the best may be yet to come as organizers are preparing for several new additions to the market in the coming weeks.

The latest additions, KJM Urban Gardens and The Network Hub, opened in the last month and the market will be hosting a Halloween party and grand opening celebration for them and soon-tobe-opened Pamola Bakery and Deli, and Tre Galli Gelato Caffe on Sunday, Oct. 30 from noon to 3 p.m.

Popular Vancouver restaurant Wild Rice is also now just finishing up renovations at its River Market location, which includes a lunch/take-out counter inside the market, according to Julie Ramirez, the market's community services manager.

The new openings mean the market is almost at capacity and the original vision for the market is on track to coming to fruition, Ramirez said.

"Square footage-wise, we're 85 per cent leased. We have three spaces on the lower level. We're currently in talks for all three of those spaces and we have one space that's upstairs," she said.

And as the spaces fill up, the number of people coming to shop and spend an afternoon is growing.

"We saw a huge increase in foot traffic (this summer). We estimate at least 800 people are coming through the market during the weekend days," she said. "We estimate once the market is fully open, we'll have at least 1,200 people through the building any day of the week. We're really happy with how things have been trending. It's been trending up all the time and as things fill in, it becomes a lot busier."

Ramirez said the demographic of people coming to the market is changing too. No longer is it mainly retirees, though the over-50 crowd is still the biggest demographic of shoppers.

"People are looking for a cool place to be and a cool place to hang out. We're seeing a huge increase of young urban families on weekends and we get those young, urban moms here on the weekdays," she said.

Ramirez said having special events for the public to attend is one of the reasons the market is now burgeoning and that won't change simply because the busy season is done.

"Because we realize that fall and winter months tend to be less busy, I've really been trying to think ahead of ways to bring traffic to the market, even when the weather isn't cooperating in our favour," she said.

Aside from the already announced Royal City Farmers Market hosting its Winter Market on the first Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Ramirez has also arranged for Vancouverbased Got Craft? to host two Christmas craft markets on the last two Saturdays and Sundays before Christmas.

Also back is Wellness Wednesday on the first Wednesday every month at 10 a.m., which features health lectures from a registered holistic nutritionist as well as free tea and goodies from market vendors.

Lori Wotherspoon, owner of KJM Urban Gardens, said she decided to open a second location of the family-owned Kitsilano business in New West after seeing the vision organizers had for the market.

"The river market just seemed like an opportunity. I really love their concept. They actually came to us and asked if we wanted to be a part of this. We came and had a look at what's going on in the neighbourhood and looked at what's going on here in terms of promoting community and food and values," she said. "I feel we're investing in the future here."

The store is currently stocked with cut flowers, gardening supplies and decor, plants and pots, but Wotherspoon said that is just the beginning.

"We can bring anything in. We can bring in big trees and shrubs because we have them in our other location. We have a lot of indoor plants but we're also going to bring in really interesting pots, giftware, Christmas and seasonal items," she said. "We're also going to really focus on container gardening because there's a lot of people who live in condos in the area. You can have a beautiful garden on your balcony. You don't need to have a yard to have a beautiful garden."