Right around the corner is the opening of the outdoor markets season in downtown Missoula. Residents in the Garden City are extremely fortunate to have such an enormous variety of options when it comes to shopping the outdoor vendors who provide a wide variety of choices for purchasing.

As the U.S. economy has changed over the last four years, the number of markets and vendors has grown substantially in western Montana. Downtown is home to four distinct outdoor markets, three of which will open the first Saturday in May. The fourth will commence its third season in mid-June. Each market has a distinct board of directors, comprised of farmers, vendors and community leaders, who oversee the activities, employ and direct the market managers, and determine the policies of each program.


The original Missoula Farmers’ Market is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2012. Created in 1972 by Mavis McKelvey and Chinwon Reinhardt, it was a place for backyard growers to sell their “extras.” The market was the first of its kind in the state of Montana; the Missoula Farmers’ Market set the standard for markets across the state.

True to its foundational mission and values, this market is focused on things you can grow (i.e., fruits and vegetables, flowers and plants) with the added layer of coffee and specialty drinks, baked goods and hot food that contribute to the wonderful experience for consumers. Held every Saturday morning on East Railroad and East Alder, the Missoula Farmers’ Market has almost 100 vendors at its peak and offers a Tuesday evening market in July, August and early September. This year, the original market is looking to reintroduce live entertainment and is preparing for a 40th Anniversary Party in late July.

The Missoula Saturday Market was created in 1998 to support and serve the growing arts and crafts industry. Previously referred to as the People’s Market and the Arts & Crafts Market, the East Pine Street location provides a distinct venue for vendors selling handmade art, clothing, home décor, jewelry, soaps and lotions, furniture, prepared and prepackaged foods and imports. At its peak, the Missoula Saturday Market showcases just over 90 vendors each weekend.

The Clark Fork River Market has truly been a leader in providing dynamic opportunities for Montana ranchers to sell goods such as fresh-cut meats, dairy products, eggs, and items made from animal byproducts such as wool blankets. That’s in addition to fruits, vegetables, plants, baked goods and beverages. Originally created by the Clark Fork Coalition in 2004 to bring upper Clark Fork valley foods to the consumers in an effort to sustain working ranchlands, the Clark Fork River Market has grown substantially over the years to include about 120 vendors at its peak. The introduction of this market near the river really elevated the market experience by creating the south anchor in downtown and significantly enhancing the pedestrian experience.

In 2010, A Carousel for Missoula created the Carousel Market and Festival, held Sundays in New Park Lot, the parking lot between the Carousel and the Caras Park Pavilion. With the goal of providing additional opportunities for a growing vendor population and additional revenues for the independent non-profit organization, the Carousel Market offers a distinct Sunday experience that draws people and consumers to Downtown on a day that needs an economic boost. This year the Carousel Market and Festival will commence on Sunday, June 10 and has changed its hours to 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Consumers can find a wide variety of locally-grown goods, foods, and arts & crafts offered by 40 vendors each week.

These markets contribute significantly to the Missoula economy and the Missoula experience. They create an environment downtown leadership would like to see seven days a week. They draw thousands of residents and tourists to the urban core that support traditional brick-and-mortar businesses. The markets have worked hard to serve the lower-income population by accepting WIC vouchers, Senior Nutrition vouchers, SNAP cards, EBT cards, Downtown Gift Cards and credit/debit cards. Some of them also offer recipe ideas for those of us who need a little guidance on cooking unusual vegetables like parsnips, chard, and okra.

Missoula is extremely fortunate to have such a dynamic, engaging, and growing outdoor market experience. The commencement of the outdoor market seasons – which lasts through October – is just two weeks away. Parking is always free in downtown Missoula on Saturdays and Sundays, and there is plenty of it. Mountain Line offers the Market Trolley each Saturday free of charge, and you can board anywhere on Higgins Avenue. Come spend your dollars with local farmers, ranchers, crafters and businesses. Bring your family, meet your friends, and enjoy the quintessential Missoula experience.

Linda McCarthy is executive director of the Missoula Downtown Association.

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