Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Can Berkeley's Bazaar Replace San Francisco's Shuttered Underground Market?

by John Birdsall
Wed, Jun 29, 2011 at 8:26 AM

Berkeley’s Firehouse Art Collective is trying to rally food vendors for an East Bay spinoff of San Francisco’s Underground Market, which lurched to an abrupt halt earlier this month after public health authorities slapped organizer Iso Rabins with a cease and desist order.

As the 2011 Berkeley Juneteenth Festival blazed out along a five-block stretch of Adeline Street last Sunday, Firehouse Art Collective directors Tom Franco and Julia Lazar debuted the bazaar, which they hope can become a weekly gathering of food, art, and crafts vendors in a barnlike space at 3192 Adeline. On Sunday, twenty-eight vendors (half of them hawking food) set up in the high-roofed former metal workshop, including Frozen Kuhsterd, Boffo Cart, Oaktown Jerk, Morph, Berlyn’s Eatery, A Humble Plate, and 23 Monkey Tree, Lazar and Franco’s kombucha business.

Bazaar or buzzar? Whatever the spelling, organizers hope itll be a weekly event.
  • John Birdsall
  • Bazaar or buzzar? Whatever the spelling, organizers hope it'll be a weekly event.

The couple also own the Firehouse North gallery in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto, and the Firehouse East studios on Harmon Street in South Berkeley.

Lazar described Sunday’s market as a reaction to the despair of the mostly unlicensed, home-based food vendors after the Underground Market's suspension — despair, and maybe the whiff of opportunity. She and Franco reached out to the market’s Google Group to find food sellers for the Berkeley bazaar, slated for Saturdays in July and both weekend days in August, noon to 6 p.m.

“We thought, we’ll just use this space for now,” Lazar said of the Collective’s newly acquired venue on Addeline, “so members who are community-based have a place to bring their food to the community.” That’s a lot of community, though unfortunately, not much of it showed up for Sunday’s debut — Lazar thinks the Juneteenth festivities proved too much of a distraction. On Monday, she was trying to line up vendors for this Saturday’s bazaar, dropping the cost of a booth to $37.50.

As for the little problem of city and county permits, the issue that got the Underground Market in trouble? Lazar was vague. “I have to look at that again,” she said. “We have a resale permit [for the bazaar], and each vendor has to have their own permit.” But, she said, the Firehouse Art Collective is trying to find ways to help vendors get their permits, and it has access to a commercial kitchen in Emeryville that could serve as a commissary for bazaar vendors.

“That’s our plan,” Lazar said. “God willing and the creek don’t rise.”

Get in touch at John.Birdsall@EastBayExpress.com, and follow me on Twitter @John_Birdsall.

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