- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The freight station built by the Kanawha and Michigan Railroad on Smith Street in Charleston had been void of once-bustling commerce for more than a century and had fallen into disrepair.

In 1997, Capitol Market at 800 Smith St. was not only the catalyst for rebirth of that commerce, but the anchor in creating a tourist attraction, shopping destination and social gathering place. The market has a year-round outdoor pavilion and a plethora of indoor shops featuring fresh fish, meat and produce, books, wines, chocolates and restaurants.

“It’s one of my favorite places,” Alisa Bailey, president of the Charleston Visitors and Convention Bureau, said. “We have our visitor’s center there. It a great place for people to begin their tour of Charleston.”

Evans Greenhouses, which operates out of Jackson County, West Virginia, has been selling flowers at Capitol Market’s outside pavilion since 2001.

“We get really busy around Mother’s Day and when the fresh produce starts coming in. Even though we don’t sell any produce, it really brings people in,” said Christina Bostic of Evans Greenhouses.

On its website, Capitol Market’s mission is outlined as family-owned businesses, renew, event center, sustainable and home, or FRESH.

“Large chain stores that sell flowers sometimes don’t take care of them properly,” Bostic said.

“Buying flowers from a vendor at the farmers market not only get people a quality plant, but they also help the community and get the knowledge of how to take care of their plants from someone who knows.”

Christmas tree shopping, picking pumpkins, spring garden planning and stocking up on fresh summer produce are all part of the Capitol Market experience.

Capitol Market, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, is privately owned. It is operated and governed by a volunteer board of directors and is a partner with the Clay Center, YWCA, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, West Virginia University, the Kanawha Extension Agency, the West Virginia Senior Voucher Program, FestivALL Charleston, Roark Sullivan Lifeway Center and Manna Meal, among others.

Over the years, Capitol Market has helped raise more than $40,000 for other nonprofit organizations such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Since 2004 fundraising efforts exceed $170,000 with more than $50,000 in gift certificates sold annually.

One indoor shop at Capitol Market is The Purple Onion, where shoppers peruse salads, homemade soups, beverages, local in-season produce, gourmet foods, hard-to-find specialty items, organic products, Amish bulk and produce items, as well as imported and domestic olive oils and vinegars.

“There’s more business inside when the vendors are outside early in the year,” Sandy Fanaris, of The Purple Onion, said.

“When the fresh vegetables get in, this place is going to be crowded regardless. We are like a family here. We have people who come here every day for lunch. If they are going out of town or know they won’t be in, they’ll tell me. It’s just how it is here.”

The Purple Onion opened in 2003.

Since opening, Capitol Market has had more than half a million visitors. The 16,000 square feet of indoor retail space and 35,000 square feet of farmers market pavilion with electricity, phone lines, water, free WiFi, workstations and a meeting place have helped Capitol Market garner an average of nearly $9 million in annual sales.

In 2009, retail sales from the nine inside businesses totaled more than $5 million, and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture estimated outdoor sales were more than $3 million.

“It’s what people want, and it’s the pride of the city,” Bailey said. “We have had visitors there from every state and 14 countries. People love the historic train station and that it’s being re-used. It gives a great first impression of the city of Charleston and gets people off the Interstate and into downtown. It’s possibilities are endless.”

Since opening in 1997, the Market has added 86 free parking spaces, signs to the building on Smith Street, a storage building and walk-in cooler space.

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Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com

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